A group of researchers from the University of Houston decided to conduct a study and see whether a virtual reality experience can help drug addicts fight this affliction and kick their “enslavement.”
For this purpose, the scientists gathered a number of drug addicts, which will be equipped with virtual reality headsets and they will have to cross a “heroin cave” in an effort to end their addiction.
The objective is to figure out if navigating through a staged house party, packed with drug-related incentives, will better prepare those suffering from addiction to handle this kind of challenge in the real world.
The creators of this experiment worked nearly a year in order to realistically design all the elements of the heroin environments, in both a drug-snorting house party and a drug-injecting one.
This study was initiated by the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and it makes use of an eight-camera infrared system, which projects realistic 3D environments and avatars. The end result is a virtual reality chamber, called the “heroin cave”, where the test subjects can interact and try to fight the temptations.
The scientists paid special attention to details, making sure to incorporate all kinds of elements that could trigger a heroin craving, such as a stack of dollar bills laying on a table, close to a cigarette lighter and even a pizza box positioned on the back patio.
Patrick Bordnick is one of the study’s leaders and an associate professor at the University of Houston-Graduate College of Social Work. He explains that even though traditional therapies involve role-playing, the context is all wrong.
Since in a regular theurapeutic environment, the patient knows they’re inside an office where the drug is not present, it does not help them fight his/her habit.
According to the scientist, the only way of improving the intervention rate and to create a better picture is to put the patient in a virtual reality environment, allowing them to experience the sensation of being near the drug.
Patrick Bordnick is no stranger to VR experiments. Over the years, he has conducted several other related studies (e.g. cigarette addiction), which proved that test subjects have an increased level of resistance to temptation in the real world after they’ve developed coping mechanisms inside virtual environments.
Overall, there are approximately 13.5 million opioid-users in the world, out of which 9.2 million are heroin addicts. Heroin is a highly addictive drug, which affects multiple human organs, such as the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and intestines.
Image Source: HuffingtonPost