Virtual Reality Treats Nicotine Addicts

Jing Gu
June 10th 2013

Scientists are using "cue reactivity" in virtual reality to as a new way to treat addiction. While virtual reality cue reactivity is a new methodology, cue reactivity is not.

For instance, to help arachnophobes, researchers will show them a brown dot, then a fake spider, then a real spider in a jar, then a real spider freely crawling around. The patients slowly acclimate to seeing a spider until they're comfortable.

In this new research, a secondary world is created in virtual reality for better cue reactivity.  Patients looking to quit smoking are brought to a virtual context created according to their description of parties or other sites where they usually smoke. According to Dr. Bordnick, a professor and associate dean for research at the University of Houston, who focuses on addiction and virtual reality: "If I wanted to teach you to ride a bike, I could show you a video of a bike." That could work, "but wouldn't it be better if I could actually get you on a real bike?". The VR mimics the effects of a real environment.

For the VR therapy group, "[s]moking rates and craving for nicotine were significantly lower." However, there are still concerns. What if these cured drug addicts crave virtual reality afterwards?

Story via Popular Science.

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