Many people associate virtual reality, or computer-simulated reality, with time-wasting video games. But researchers at the University of Houston are using virtual reality to study addiction and identify interventions. Some projects have looked at nicotine addiction, alcohol dependence and heroin.
In the “heroin cave,” addicts are immersed in a custom-made virtual environment. They work their way through a computer-simulated house party where they are bombarded by stimuli and triggers. The researchers are assessing craving responses and developing methods to decrease those cravings and occurrences of relapse.
“We need to put patients in realistic virtual reality environments and make them feel they are there with the drug, and the temptation, to get a clearer picture and improve interventions,” said Patrick Bordnick, an associate dean of research and one of the study leaders. “We want to know if decreasing craving in a lab modifies heroin use in the real world.”