5 Ways VR Can Help Treat Addiction

5 Ways VR Can Help Treat AddictionShape

Technology always evolves. Widely used for entertainment, virtual reality might be the next big thing in drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

Exposure therapy has been hailed as an excellent way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychiatric conditions. However, scientists are discovering exposure therapy can also help battle substance use disorder.

Using virtual reality to induce exposure, treatment providers can expose their clients to triggers and help them develop the immediate coping skills necessary to deal with triggers for alcohol and drug use. In the safety of your office, your clients can learn to say "no."

Virtual reality therapy was once cost-prohibitive but is now more available with the increase of virtual reality technologies and decreased prices. As a result, virtual reality is more accessible to all. Researchers are studying it more as a means of coping with various issues, including substance use disorder and other behavioral problems.

How Does Virtual Reality Work in Therapy?

Virtual reality is immersive and provides real-time experiences in situations that can be tailored to your client. Virtual reality offers individualized treatment through provider- and client-selected environments and trigger cues. By individualizing each session with virtual reality, the client can develop ways to cope with triggers.

While there is limited data relative to substance use disorder, the data available as it relates to effectiveness for other disorders is promising. You can look at a related study on virtual reality in therapy here.

Virtual Reality Therapy Helps With Assessment of Substance Use Disorder

One benefit of virtual reality therapy is its ability to help assess triggers and cravings. While the client finds themselves virtually in an environment that presents a temptation, the substance is not physically there and therefore presents no danger. As the assessment continues, both client and provider can identify triggers and appropriate responses for the client.

The modules can be individualized, leading to practical assessment and treatment. This approach to assessment will also help clinicians identify underlying contributors to their clients' struggle with addictive behaviors.

Virtual Reality Therapy Improves Coping Skills

One benefit to using virtual reality therapy is developing coping skills in a safe and controlled environment. By using virtual reality, you can personalize the experience to the needs of your client. Specifically, you can identify cues for each substance used and provide avatars (interactive characters) to interact with them, prompting triggers for the use of specific substances.

This method increases coping skills by enabling your client to learn how to cope, with your coaching, while in a safe environment. Virtual reality can also help your clients cope during detoxification by providing them with an alternate reality more relaxing and distracting than their current situation.

Virtual Reality Therapy Improves Self-Efficacy

Virtual reality therapy is immersive. This mode of treatment can increase self-efficacy both in the therapy office and in the real world. Immersive exposure therapies effectively develop client self-efficacy as it enables them to experience triggers and cues for old behaviors and learn how to cope effectively.

Effective coping in virtual reality settings improves their ability to manage triggers and cravings outside of the office, increasing their ability to produce the desired result and confidence in overcoming substance use disorder behaviors. Saying "no" can be practiced safely in the realm of virtual reality therapy without worries of giving in to temptation.

Virtual Reality Provides Relaxation

One common struggle for many people trying to overcome dependence on alcohol and/or other substances is adequate rest and relaxation. Many people who struggle with substance use disorder have difficulty relaxing without the use of substances. Utilizing virtual reality therapy can help teach them how to relax, as well as provide an essential tool for relaxation.

During exposure therapy using virtual reality, cravings for substances may become overwhelming, leaving your client struggling with how to cope. Changing the scenery in a uniquely crafted virtual reality can help them relax and cope. You can use breathing exercises while they are in a relaxing environment without triggers.

Using this method, you can give them a break from the struggle of exposure therapy and teach them how to walk away from their stressors and be able to say "no."

Virtual Reality Therapy Is Supplemental to Traditional Treatment

While virtual reality therapy consistently shows promise in many aspects of healthcare, this mode of treatment is not meant to be used alone. Treatment for addiction to alcohol or drugs should be multimodal and requires innovation through various means. Virtual reality therapy helps assess and examine triggers and develop coping skills.

However, for underlying conditions such as trauma or other comorbid psychiatric disorders, concurrent treatment methods are necessary.

Improving your clients' coping skills and self-efficacy are critical components to effective treatment. You want to see your clients succeed in overcoming their struggles with alcohol or drugs. Achieving wellness is multidimensional and requires perseverance.

Using virtual reality as a tool is helpful, but like all treatment methods, it is not an island. 

Virtual Reality Appears To Be Helpful

Virtual reality therapy has been compared to exposure therapy as a helpful means of improving self-efficacy and coping skills when faced with triggers or cues for relapse. If you have a client struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available. The Forge Recovery Center offers comprehensive outpatient treatment programs on a flexible schedule to fit your client's needs.

Reach out to The Forge today to learn how we can help your client overcome substance use disorder.

Are You Struggling with Mental Health or Addiction?

We Can Help. Call Us Now!

CALL: 877-839-1772

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

May 12, 2022