Addiction is one of the most overlooked forms of emotional and psychological torment. Most people don’t really get what addiction really is. They don’t understand how you can’t “just quit already” because they’ve never been truly addicted to something.
In and of itself, addiction is a spiral of desperation, as it drags in pretty much all you care about and replaces it with one thing – it. And even if you try to escape its grasp, it’s extremely difficult to overcome since it usually hangs around with its friends – depression, anxiety, and avoidance.
You might want to give up your addictive habits, but your brain likes routines. So instead of going cold turkey, you remember all the previous other times you failed and start considering yourself a failure, you start worrying about what you’re going to do with all the time spent indulging the addiction, and you end up doing nothing, right back where you started.
Of course, one of the biggest sources of addiction is heroin, with other opioids becoming more and more abused all over our country. In an attempt to test a new way of removing addictions, a team of experts tried to help addicts via a virtual reality “heroin cave”.
Created by a team of researchers from the University of Houston, the so-called heroin cave is basically a very detailed virtual reality party house. It’s meant to induce the urge of consuming heroin, as the team believes that if they manage to control the urge in VR, addicts will have an easier time in real life.
It took nearly a whole year to complete the simulation, as it needed to be as detailed as possible. Objects like a small pile of money casually thrown on a table next to a cigarette lighter or a pizza box open in the back yard are all subtle triggers to enhance heroin cravings.
The process is meant to simulate a therapeutic process called systematic exposure. Patients are slowly exposed to their fears or worries, generally via directed imagination. The stimuli increase gradually, over time, as the patients need first to overcome less intimidating stimuli before they move on to the real objects of their fears and anxieties.
The lead researcher behind the study talked about why the team decided to develop the heroin cave:
In traditional therapy we role-play with the patient but the context is all wrong. They know they’re in a therapist’s office and the drug isn’t there. 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.
Until further studies are performed on the subject, it’s indecisive whether the technique will work. It does seem quite likely to be functional, however, as the same principle has been successfully applied in therapy for decades.
Image source: Wikimedia