Virtual Reality Aids in Substance Abuse Disorder Recovery

virtual reality
Source: Indiana University Research Impact


Virtual Reality based stimulation can help people overcome disorders linked with substance abuse!

The researchers at Indiana University are creating an immersive therapy for
people with substance abuse disorder by combining innovative VR technology with
psychological principles. Moreover, they have also received funds of over $4.9
million through the National Institutes of Health and launched an IU-affiliated
startup company for testing it further.

The research was led by Brandon
Oberlin where the IU researchers made a virtual environment with “future-self
avatars”, which will help people recovering from substance use disorders. The avatars
are large and fully animated, making them look photo realistic. Moreover,
people can also talk to their avatars. They speak in their voice using personal
details from alternate futures.

Professor Oberlin, IU
School of Medicine said,

VR technology is clinically effective and increasingly common for treating a variety of mental health conditions, such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and post-operative pain, but has yet to find wide use in substance use disorders intervention or recovery,
“Capitalizing on VR’s ability to deliver an immersive experience showing otherwise-impossible scenarios, we created a way for people to interact with different versions of their future selves in the context of substance use and recovery.”

The pilot study was published
in Discover Mental Health in September after four years of testing and development
in collaboration with Indianapolis-based centres. Moreover, the findings of the
study suggest that substance abuse can be recovered through virtual reality simulation
based on imagination. It can lower the risk of relapse rate and increase the
future self-connectedness of participants.

Oberlin further added,

This experience enables people in recovery to have a personalized virtual experience, in alternate futures resulting from the choices they made,”
We believe this could be a revolutionary intervention for early substance use disorders recovery, with perhaps even further-reaching mental health applications.”

Immersive Virtual Reality Experiences 

The technology is beneficial
for people who are in their early recovery phase. It is a very crucial phase
because the chances of relapse are high. However, immersive experiences can help
them choose rewards that are long-term, instead of gratification. According to
Oberlin, the virtual reality will deepen their connection with themselves.

The team was also awarded
grants, which they will use for the clinical trials designed for testing the efficacy.
In addition to relapse prevention, brain activation and other elements linked
with substance abuse treatment.

Oberin said,

The ultimate goal of our work is to leverage state-of-the-art VR technology for providing therapeutic experiences to support early recovery—a very dangerous time period marked by a high risk for relapse,”
“Last year marked another grim annual record for drug overdose deaths in the United States, with over 100,000 estimated deaths. New innovations in treatment and recovery are desperately needed, and we are hoping that IU’s innovative research efforts will answer this call.”

Associated Vice President, IU
Innovation and Commercialization Simran Trana said that this is a unique approach for the treatment of mental health disorders,

Brandon’s technology is a unique approach to the treatment of mental health conditions like substance use disorders, that have been a long-term challenge to individual well-being and societal health,”
“We look forward to working with his team to develop and deploy this technology through Relate XR by leveraging translational Small Business Innovation Research funds and raising additional investment.”


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