Can virtual re­al­ity treat ad­dic­tion?

Us­ing VR can help re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts break the cy­cle by eas­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal need for the drug and help­ing them shape their men­tal­ity against it

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Chen strapped on virtual re­al­ity gog­gles and put on a head­set. As videos played, his heart pounded and his hands be­gan to sweat.

Chen, a heroin and metham­phetamine user for seven years, is un­der­go­ing treat­ment at the Zhe­jiang Liangzhu Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter in Hangzhou, cap­i­tal

of East China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince. The cen­ter is among sev­eral Chi­nese fa­cil­i­ties us­ing virtual re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy for drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

There are over 1,100 pa­tients at the cen­ter. Virtual re­al­ity (VR) treat­ment is in­tro­duced to pa­tients who have un­der­gone a typ­i­cal detox pro­gram for at least a year.

“For now, we mainly use VR treat­ment for metham­phetamine ad­dicts. It is easy for meth ad­dicts to quit the drug phys­i­cally, but not psy­cho­log­i­cally,” said Xia Xia, a ther­a­pist at the Liangzhu cen­ter.

Meth ad­dicts show fewer with­drawal symp­toms than heroin users.

“Us­ing VR helps them cut their psy­cho­log­i­cal re­liance on the drug,” Xia said.

Chen has par­tic­i­pated in two VR treat­ment ses­sions so far.

In each ses­sion, he donned gog­gles and a head­set while a com­puter was used to record his heart­beat.

Three videos played for about 20 min­utes in to­tal.

The first one showed fa­mil­iar sce­nar­ios that trig­ger drug crav­ings, Xia said.

Chen watched videos show­ing sev­eral peo­ple gath­ered in ho­tels to use meth.

He heard lighters hit­ting the ta­ble and the rum­bling sound of meth burn­ing in glass pipes.

“The sce­nar­ios were so fa­mil­iar,” Chen said.

The sec­ond video, a form of aver­sion ther­apy, showed peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dizzy hal­lu­ci­na­tions, their bod­ies zipped up in bags, and mag­gots gnaw­ing at their bones.

“So much hor­ri­ble pain came when I used drugs. It awak­ened my worst fears and made me want to vomit,” Chen said.

The third video showed ap­pe­tiz­ing meals and happy fam­ily time. Chen’s heart pounded fast. He has spent too much time in re­peated re­hab treat­ment, and he misses his fam­ily.

“The best thing about a per­son is his or her mem­ory, and the worst is also their mem­ory,” said Dr. Wang Yong­guang, an ex­pert with the Zhe­jiang Pro­vin­cial Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Man­age­ment Bureau, who helped de­velop the VR treat­ment.

“Pro­gres­sively play­ing videos aims to help them turn their re­liance on drugs into hate and fear of drugs,” Wang said.

“This is the first step. We use acous­tic and vis­ual stim­uli to trig­ger em­pa­thy,” he said, adding that in the fu­ture, they may stim­u­late other senses, in­clud­ing touch and smell.

In clin­i­cal tri­als, 60 drug ad­dicts un­der­went six VR ses­sions over 15 days.

Seventy five per­cent of them showed markedly low crav­ings for drugs. Among a com­par­i­son group that did not use VR ses­sions, only 3 per­cent of pa­tients showed a lower de­sire for drugs.

In Jan­uary, VR treat­ment passed ex­pert ap­praisal from the Chi­nese Cen­ter for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, Zhe­jiang Univer­sity and the Hangzhou city y health com­mis­sion.

“The ex­ist­ing treat­ment meth­ods are not that ef­fec­tive in detox­i­fy­ing pa­tients from syn­thetic drugs like meth, and that is why we turn to new meth­ods,” said Yao Yongqing, deputy di­rec­tor of the bureau.

Even though VR techch­niques have yielded pos­i­tive os­i­tive re­sults for ad­dicts, we need more time to im­prove their ef­fec­tive­ness and pre­ci­sion, ion, said Yao.

Yi Jiang­wei, mar­ket­ing ting di­rec­tor of Hangzhou Sai­wengsigsi Tech­no­log­i­cal Com­pany, which de­vel­oped eloped the VR hard­ware and sys­tem, said d that they would add more con­tent to the videos ideos and con­duct more tests to im­prove the sys­tem. ys­tem.

Start­ing next month, h, the sys­tem will be tested in more re­hab cen­ters in Zhe­jiang, he said.

Photo: IC

Virtual re­al­ity (VR) treat­ment is in­tro­duced to pa­tients who have un­der­gone a typ­i­cal detox pro­gram for at least a year.

Photo: IC

Virtual re­al­ity treat­ment is con­tin­u­ing to grow and de­velop, and it will be in­tro­duced in more re­hab cen­ters.

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