Researchers from the University of Houston are testing a virtual reality game called “heroin cave” where addicts put on VR headsets and try to navigate through the game in a bid to help them kick addiction to heroin and other harmful substances - Reuters reported.
The game is set in a simulated house party where heroin and other drugs are in ample display, as well as stimuli that should help drug addicts overcome the cravings even while in an environment full of drugs.
The creators of the virtual reality game spent about one year perfecting the heroin environment and house party where people snort and inject heroin among other drugs.
Researchers from the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work adopted an 8-camera infrared system that projects life-sized 3D avatars and environments where participants can interact with themselves in a virtual reality chamber called heroin cave, simulating a real-life situation where addicts go to joints.
All the stimuli needed to make the situation real and to evoke cravings are there, and these involve open pizza box on some patio, cash placed beside a cigarette lighter on a table, and other paraphernalia to make sensations real and trigger craving for heroin.
"In traditional therapy we role-play with the patient but the context is all wrong," said Patrick Bordnick, an associate dean of research and one of the study leaders.
Bordnick said addicts brought to a therapist’s office are aware of the fact that there are no drugs around and that is why sessions are not so effective or produce the right abstinence results. But with the game, patients need to be in realistic virtual environments where they see drugs and get very strong temptations to reach out for them, while also have the help they need to maintain self-control and abstinence.
From past studies, Bordnick had been able to establish that cigarette smokers refrained from the habit and developed stronger control to overcome temptations in real life after they had taken part in virtual reality environments.
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"We want to know if decreasing craving in a lab modifies heroin use in the real world," Bordnick revealed.