Virtual Reality and Heroin Addiction
Heroin is one of the most dangerous and addicting drugs on the black market.
It is estimated that one in four people who try heroin will develop an addiction.
Drug addiction is one of the most challenging things an individual can overcome in his or her life.
Drugs alter brain chemistry after being used for a long period of time, so recovery can be a difficult thing to achieve and maintain.
Temptations to use drugs are involuntary and can make recovery fragile.
When an individual achieves sobriety, it can be difficult to stay on the path to recovery outside of rehab.
This can be attributed to the fact that the individual struggles to find the necessary coping mechanisms to continue sobriety outside of a controlled environment.
Since he or she can make his or her own decisions, it is important to address this concern.
Relapse is something that everyone wants to avoid.
There are multiple therapies to treat heroin addiction.
As technology grows, alternative methods of treating drug addiction expand.
Recently, researchers from the University of Houston have been using virtual reality to treat heroin addiction.
The team of researchers constructed a hyper-realistic virtual world.
This includes smells and environments which provide a similar scenario that evokes cravings in those who have a heroin addiction.
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What is Virtual Reality?
The only manner in which we can experience reality is by using the five senses of the human body: sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste.
This combination of sensory information makes the perception of real tangible and able to be processed by the human brain.
Virtual reality is a computer-generated technology that simulates the real world in three-dimensional environments by producing images, sounds, and even smells that mimic reality.
These programs are used primarily on computers, but they can sometimes be used on other electronic devices.
The user can explore the simulated environment with remote control devices and/or other electronic apparatuses designed specifically for the program.
Virtual reality is intended to mimic real life as much as possible.
This gives the user a sense of how to respond appropriately in the virtual world.
Since its debut in 1968, virtual reality has been rapidly expanding regarding what it can achieve.
Currently, many kinds of virtual reality programs exist and are used for the purposes of entertainment, job training, education, military training, medical training, and many others.
It now has been revolutionized to include treating heroin addiction.
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What Role Does Virtual Reality Play in Treating Heroin Addiction?
The idea behind virtual reality in heroin addiction treatment is that an individual’s perception of reality may change as a result of using the technology. Although the environment and everything that the program is comprised of is not real, individuals are to treat the program as if it were real-life scenarios. He or she is placed in a simulated environment familiar to them. The simulated environment a trigger intended to provoke heroin cravings. Researchers had individuals addicted to heroin roleplay his or her injection rituals. The motion capture suits the individual wears during this action digitizes the roleplay in the virtual environment. Another machine provides scents he or she is used to that will entice the individual to use heroin. This is done to help researchers identify triggers and improve current interventions. Triggers play a large role in addiction. It compels the individual to continue using drugs despite negative consequences. Researchers are attempting to have the triggers become familiar to the individuals but in a new way. As the individual progresses, this allows researchers to find a method of treatment that will be viable to him or her in the real world. The point of virtual reality in treating heroin addiction is about learning to healthily adapt to the real world.
How Do Triggers Work in Virtual Reality?
Triggers are essentially stimuli such as people, places, and things, that evoke a specified thought process that can affect mood and behavior. This is a natural response to the things the brain has associated with certain acts or routines. It is involuntary and can feel like a switch has been flipped in the brain. In this case, triggers make the individual want to use heroin because of the realistic elements placed for him or her in the virtual reality environment. It is an intense craving that the individual must understand and learn to cope with in a healthy manner. However, this can be difficult to achieve because when the brain creates a trigger, a flood of dopamine is released. This challenges the individual to adopt new routines and unlearn his or her triggers. This process takes time because triggers bypass the brain’s prefrontal. This is a major reason why an individual with an addiction feels as though it is not in their conscious choice to continue using drugs. This part of addiction is misunderstood by many people. In virtual reality, individuals with a heroin addiction are surrounded by his or her personal triggers. These can range from environments, smells, and sounds that make him or her want to use heroin. As he or she continues to find alternative ways to avoid using in the presence of triggers, he or she will be less likely to use heroin.
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Is Virtual Reality Effective in Treating Heroin Addiction?
Sobriety can be tough to maintain after it has been achieved. But the path of recovery has its share of obstacles to still overcome. Research in treating heroin addiction with virtual reality is still being conducted. Therefore, the effectiveness of this method of treatment is still not certain. However, there are positive indications that virtual reality is effective in treating individuals. The participants addicted to heroin have been found to have fewer relapses because of the confidence it builds. They learn to adapt and cope with real-life situations they are familiar with, which makes it more likely they will apply what they practiced in virtual reality to real life. This works because it reinforces their resistance to their heroin addiction. The skillset learned from virtual reality is more applicable because they have repeatedly roleplayed the scenario they will deal with daily.
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