VR Therapy is Revolutionizing Care for Substance Use Disorder

VR therapy has proven to be beneficial for different mental health conditions. Does this hold true for substance use disorder as well? Let’s take a look at the most recent findings to see how virtual reality could be the therapeutic intervention your patients need to manage their addictions. Many individuals worldwide suffer from some form of drug addiction or substance use disorder (SUD). Due to the cyclical nature of withdrawal and relapses, eg. alcohol use disorder (AUD), the difficulty rooted in managing such brain diseases can dishearten those who most want to cease drug misuse and lead healthier lives. Knowledge of such a fact thus necessitates a multidisciplinary therapeutic approach that confronts the chronic character of SUD and, at the same time, addresses the underlying emotional or mental problems that may fan cravings for continual drug use. A promising way to work with addictions that falls within this therapy arsenal and could confer such solutions onto individuals with SUD is virtual reality (VR). Here before you is a brief compendium of findings from various studies that demonstrate VR efficacy in SUD. 

VR Therapy is Revolutionizing Care for Substance Use Disorder

VR therapy induces response to cue exposure while fostering a controlled environment

Significant factors that can influence overcoming drug addictions are high-risk environments and cue reactivity. However, the use of VR helps to expose patients to certain cues without the concomitant risk of a real-life, high-risk environment. To illustrate that VR therapy does indeed induce cue reactivity, let us consider a systematic review by Segawa et al. that assessed 37 articles concerning VR multisensorial cue exposure and cue reactivity. In one functional MRI study, researchers Lee et al. demonstrated pre-front cortex activation during VR nicotine stimuli. In all other studies investigating craving, induction of such occurred in response to VR cue exposure. Complementing the latter set of research is yet another included finding by Bordnick et al. that demonstrated that the induction of cravings is possible by virtual proximal and complex cues. This all stated, the ability of VR to induce a response to cues lays the foundation for therapists to introduce and reinforce certain positive behaviors or adequate coping skills.

VR therapy potentiates self-efficacy in individuals with addictions

Virtual reality establishes a controlled setting for patients with addictions. It anticipates a prospective high-risk situation in real life and induces cravings by specific cues. This, as a whole, is important because through this repeated, yet controlled virtual cue exposure, patients can develop and hone in preventive coping skills or other behavioral actions. In other words, patients can lower their likelihood of experiencing lapses that could result in drug use once again and, conversely, find a sense of self-empowerment. A clear example that underpins the utility of virtual reality in this light is a study by Bordnick et al., in which investigators evaluated the efficacy of 10 weekly sessions of virtual cognitive-behavioral therapy (VCBT) in smokers. These sessions comprised gradual and individualized cue exposure, coupled with therapist-guided coping skill training and nicotine replacement therapy. Investigators observed that cigarette consumption and craving reduction were higher in individuals who did not undergo VCBT and only received nicotine replacement therapy. Additional benefits of VCBT included a higher retention rate and increased self-confidence after intervention completion, as well as better coping skills during follow-up reporting. Evidently, virtual reality can play a pivotal role in addiction behavioral change. Whether it is through developing coping skills, reducing cravings or boosting self-empowerment, patients stand to benefit from VR integration in therapy sessions. 

VR + supported therapeutic interventions = better management of disorders

Returning to the systemic review by Segawa et al., authors concluded that while craving induction by VR is effective in substance use disorders, results are not consistent across therapies based solely on virtual substance-related cue exposure. Is that to suggest the exclusion of VR therapy in sessions with patients with SUD?No. Rather, there lies an opportunity to integrate an evidence-supported VR tool as a complementary approach for patients. It is the combination of VR and, for example, cognitive behavioral interventions that promise a higher likelihood of success in relapse prevention and improved disease management. For this reason, Amelia Virtual Care is proud to announce the latest addition to our VR platform for patients with SUD, a new virtual area for “Addictive disorders”, with a new environment called “Terrace of a bar”.

VR Therapy is Revolutionizing Care for Substance Use Disorder

Let’s go to the Terrace of a bar

“Terrace of a bar” is a virtual environment, in which patients with SUD find themselves seated with an accompanying avatar in a bar with terrace. The bar is on a touristic, international city boulevard, where different locales can be found and avatar passerbys are strolling around. Surrounding the patient are different types of cues, all of which are configurable in settings. For example, there may an avatar drinking in close sight and in far sight, another avatar dealing drugs. There could even be businesses selling paraphernalia related to different substances like cannibis-related objects. Regardless of the specific cue itself, therapists and patients work alongside one another to manage induced cravings and reinforce relapse preventive techniques. In time, through virtual reality and additional therapeutic interventions, patients with SUD can take control of their lives once again and experience improved overall outcomes. If you are interested in discovering more about our newest VR setting for substance use disorder treatments, feel free to contact us at Amelia Virtual Care for a free demo!