Virtual reality used to help in the fight against opioid addiction

Virtual reality is being used to treat addictions at Vanderbilt University. (WSMV)

What could be a groundbreaking new treatment against opioid addiction is happening in Nashville.

Virtual reality is helping addicts tap into the source of their addiction, and transport them to a safe place, where they can face their addiction.

Noah Robinson is a clinical psychology grad student at Vanderbilt.

“Anyone who using a substance is trying to regulate their emotions,” said Robinson. “What we're looking at is basically can the virtual reality be an immediate easily accessible intervention."

Robinson believes virtual reality can help patients tap into their negative feelings, and find the source of what is fueling the addiction.

“In our environment we have thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” he explains. “The idea here is if you can change someone's environment instantly by immersing them in a completely new, novel, and distracting place, perhaps you can help them decrease those negative emotions and having the therapy sink in.”

Patients put on goggles, take hold of joysticks, and enter a realm of many virtual worlds. The patients can talk to their therapist while in the VR world in the form of an avatar.

One VR setting is designed like a bar, where recovering alcoholics are offered a drink. “It's a social environment. It's a real person behind that avatar. What that allows for is the patient to practice saying no.”

Robinson says this can be a more proactive and outside the box approach to dealing with addiction. If this works, many believe this can fight the opioid epidemic.

“You put on a headset and all-of-a-sudden you're around other people and you get that social support. it's very powerful,” said Robinson. “I think it's that element of it that can help save people's lives and eliminate relapses.”

So far, more than 60 patients have used this form of treatment. The hope is that patients will eventually be able to take the VR equipment home with them, so they can access it whenever they need help.

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