Virtual reality is not new. We’re exposed to it on video games and social networking venues. Now researchers are learning how to wield the technology to assess and treat things like addictions. Patrick Bordnick, assistant professor at the UH Graduate College of Social Work, has created a series of scenarios where those addicted to nicotine and alcohol can practice the coping skills in the safe environment of virtual reality.
“What virtual reality does is allow us to bring somebody in and put them in an elevator or in a bar or in a virtual party that mimics the real-world situation,” said Bordnick, whose research is funded by the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The virtual experience is enhanced by a scent machine, which sprays the aroma of pizza, cigarettes or your drink of choice—smells that tend to heighten cravings. Participants wear special helmets and use gamepads to rate their cravings–and practice coping skills with their therapist.
“We’re trying to develop assessment and treatment tools for use around the world to treat all types of addictive disorders in virtual reality situations that will translate back to the real world,” Bordnick said.