Heroin addiction is a problem that affects many people around the world. Turning a person addicted to heroin away from that condition is very difficult due to the combination of physical and mental effects that are present.
However, researchers at the University of Houston are turning towards a method that is only now possible thanks to advancing technology, virtual reality. This form of technology has been around for over a decade, but only in a relatively primitive form. Today, virtual reality has progressed considerably and is now being used to create realistic worlds for the addicts to help them fight their addiction.
How Virtual Reality Works
Basically, the patient puts on the virtual reality headset which presents them with strong images of a world that is familiar to them. There is even the right odors added to the experience to make it as realistic as possible. The idea is to actually trigger the cravings that they are feeling when in this virtual world so that they can be properly measured and handled.
Many of the familiar settings not only work for heroin addicts, but those addicted to marijuana and alcohol as well. The headset presents images of partying and other settings that are designed to set off the cravings.
Once in that situation, the patient learns to recognize what it is and how it triggers the cravings. Therefore, the result is that patients can understand how to remove themselves from that setting. The key is the combination of visuals and smells that garner the response. However, the setting itself is an artificial one that allows a person to react and remove themselves from it. Such training is geared to allow addicts to do the same when facing a similar real-life situation.
Does it Work?
The program itself is quite realistic and based on the experiences of actual heroin users down to the mimicking of injecting the needle into their vein. What helps make this virtual reality really seem real is the scents that are placed such as the smell of marijuana for example. However, there are different scents for different virtual rooms to help make the experience even more real.
Overall, the effect has been noticeable although not all encompassing. With addicts, the ability to recognize situations of temptation in the virtual reality world has helped them to overcome real life situations. However, flaws in the program such as not having the right scent or image means that the addict will not be able to effectively role play the situation.
The early studies have not been completed, so there is no hard data yet to see if this program really works. However, a previous study with those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2012 showed that 15 out of 20 patients no longer met the criteria for suffering from PTSD and managed to maintain that status a full three months later which is quite remarkable.
Whether those who are addicted to heroin, marijuana or alcohol will enjoy a 75% recovery rate remains to be seen. However, given the promise of the previous study there is room to hope.