How VR can help for addiction treatment

Can VR help with addiction treatment?

Zornitsa Vuteva 2 weeks ago 0 4

Addiction presents a complex and challenging condition which impacts millions of individuals globally. Traditional addiction treatment methods, including counseling, support groups, and medication, have shown varying levels of success. Nonetheless, with the continuous advancement of technology, new and progressive approaches to addiction treatment are surfacing. VR has proven to be a valuable tool in enhancing exposure therapy, providing personalized treatment, and increasing motivation and engagement in addiction treatment.

In this article we will review the ways VR can be integrated into addiction treatment programs, its shortcomings and how this technology is expected to improve addiction recovery outcomes in the near future.

How can VR enhance addiction treatment?

Here are some key ways VR contributes to successful addiction recovery and long-term sobriety:

Personalized and Tailored Treatment

VR can assist in creating personalized and tailored treatment plans based on a patient’s specific triggers and cravings. For instance, a patient with alcohol use disorder can be exposed to virtual environments simulating a bar or social setting where alcohol is present. Similarly, a patient with opioid use disorder can experience virtual environments mimicking pain and stress.

Enhancing Exposure Therapy

VR can improve exposure therapy by providing a more realistic and immersive experience. Patients can be exposed to various environments and situations that trigger their addiction, enabling them to develop the skills and strategies needed to overcome their addiction.

Relaxation and Coping

VR can provide a safe alternative to drug use, helping individuals relax and cope with their commitment to be sober. Soothing scenes, combined with relaxing music, can reduce agitation, stress, paranoia, and anger, providing a quiet place for self-reflection.

Safe Environment for Practice

VR offers a safe and controlled environment for patients to practice coping strategies and relapse prevention techniques without the risk of relapse. Patients can practice saying no to drugs or alcohol, managing cravings, and developing coping strategies without fear of judgment or negative consequences.

Increasing Motivation and Engagement

VR provides a highly engaging and immersive experience that can help patients stay motivated throughout their treatment. Patients can explore different environments and situations, interact with virtual avatars, and receive immediate feedback and reinforcement, making the treatment process more enjoyable and rewarding.

Calming and Soothing

VR can aid during the detox process by calming or soothing an individual during the withdrawal process. Immersed in another reality that removes the stressful reality around them, individuals can feel more relaxed, improving their stress tolerance.

Identifying Triggers

VR can assist therapists in identifying the internal factors contributing to addiction. By exploring different scenarios in VR and observing reactions, addiction treatment therapists can better identify and address the root causes of addiction.

Overcoming Cravings

VR can assist individuals in overcoming cravings by placing them in scenarios that recreate real-time stimuli without posing any risk to their well-being. This allows them to practice resisting cue-elicited cravings and build confidence in their ability to manage these situations.

Building Confidence

VR can help build confidence and reinforce one’s ability to resist addiction. By experiencing scenarios and fears in a safe environment, individuals can develop the skills they need to confidently manage these experiences later in life and avoid falling back into addiction.

Supporting Recovery

VR can be used throughout the recovery process, from detoxification to maintaining sobriety. It can help individuals relax and cope with their commitment to be sober, provide an escape if cravings become overwhelming, and help them build confidence in their journey towards sobriety.

Examples of VR use in addiction treatment

Several centers and organizations have integrated VR technology into their treatment programs to enhance the recovery process. Here are some examples:

Harmony Ridge Recovery Center in West Virginia uses VR to provide a safe and controlled environment for patients to confront and overcome triggers and urges related to their addiction. VR exposure therapy helps patients build resilience and learn coping strategies, making it a valuable tool in their recovery journey.

Niznik Behavioral Health utilizes VR to help clients overcome addiction by providing immersive experiences that simulate real-life scenarios. This approach allows therapists to identify the root causes of addiction and develop personalized treatment plans. VR also assists clients in coping with cravings and withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to maintain sobriety.

Recovery Lighthouse incorporates VR into their treatment programs to promote neuroplasticity and cognitive changes. VR exposure therapy helps individuals manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment. It can be used alongside traditional therapeutic methods like CBT and peer support.

Addiction treatment with VR

Desert Hope Treatment Center in Las Vegas has partnered with Aura to develop a virtual reality-assisted therapy program designed for patients struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The VR therapy involves simulating and repeating specific experiences to observe patients’ reactions. Through gradual participation in this therapy, patients can begin rewiring their brains and altering addictive behaviors.

A study discovered that the VR intervention had a significant impact on enhancing future self-continuity and increasing delayed reward preference (doubling delay tolerance) among participants with substance use disorder. Notably, the elevated future self-similarity was still present 30 days later. Those participants who exhibited enhanced future self-similarity after the VR experience all remained abstinent, whereas individuals who experienced a relapse showed reduced or no impact.

Challenges and limitations

  • Incidental motion sickness may occur in some patients using VR, posing a barrier to its implementation.
  • Therapists invest significant unbillable time setting up and checking the VR device, presenting a logistical challenge.
  • The high costs of VR hardware and software can be substantial, potentially dissuading some organizations from embracing VR technology. Therapists require training in VR usage, adding to the overall cost.
  • Limited availability of VR devices can be a challenge, particularly in resource-constrained settings.
  • VR use can lead to dry eyes, causing discomfort for patients.
  • Patients may become overly absorbed in the VR environment, potentially feeling disconnected from reality.
  • The necessity for dedicated treatment rooms poses a logistical challenge, especially in space-constrained settings.
  • More studies are required to assess the long-term effects of VR treatment and its applicability to real-world situations.
  • The absence of randomized controlled clinical trials with large samples hinders the full establishment of VR’s efficacy in addiction treatment.
  • Diverse VR techniques and approaches are employed, making result comparisons and standard establishment challenging.

Future prospects of VR in addiction treatment

The significant advancements VR addiction treatment approaches will endure are:

Personalized and Innovative Interventions

Future developments in VR therapy are anticipated to focus on personalized and empathetic care, contributing to more effective and individualized treatment modalities in addiction recovery. By leveraging the immersive power of VR, therapy sessions can be tailored to meet individual needs, potentially leading to higher patient satisfaction and improved outcomes.

Enhanced Therapeutic Approaches

VR is expected to continue revolutionizing addiction therapy by offering immersive environments for individuals to confront triggers, practice coping strategies, and experience relaxation techniques in a controlled setting. This technology is likely to play a crucial role in enhancing traditional addiction treatment methods and providing a safe space for individuals to manage their triggers without real-world consequences.

Research and Clinical Applications

Ongoing research and clinical trials are exploring the utility of VR in assessing cue reactivity, craving, and behavioral responses across various addiction disorders, indicating a growing interest in expanding the use of VR in addiction treatment. The potential benefits of VR in providing therapeutic experiences and supporting early recovery are driving further exploration and investment in this technology.

Technological Innovations

With advancements in VR technology and its increasing accessibility, future applications may include remote delivery of VR experiences via wireless headsets for at-home use, making therapy more convenient and widely available. Additionally, collaborations between researchers, clinicians, and VR developers are expected to lead to the development of more personalized and effective interventions for addiction treatment.


VR offers a more immersive, engaging, and effective way to address the complex psychological and emotional aspects of addiction. As research continues to explore the potential of VR in addiction treatment, it is evident that this innovative technology holds great promise for enhancing outcomes and assisting individuals in overcoming the challenges of addiction. By offering a safe and controlled environment for patients to practice coping strategies and confront triggers, VR can be a valuable tool in the ongoing battle against addiction.

Written By

Meet Zornitsa, our Content Manager, specializing in all things VR headsets and innovative VR use cases. With a passion for exploring the latest in virtual reality technology, Zornitsa is your trusted source for expert insights and informative content that will elevate your VR experience.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *