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UH Moment

UH Moment: ‘The Cave’

An innovative approach to fighting addictions places individuals in the very situations that trigger their cravings. Learn about The Cave in this UH Moment.



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The animated woman at the house party greets people as they enter. 

“I’m Marsha. What’s your name?” she asks. “Nice to meet you. Make yourself at home.” 

This party is complete with cool tunes, adult beverages, cigarettes and drugs. If you are trying to kick your addiction, this is the party you’ll want to attend.

“This is a first-of-its-kind for the University and the city,” said Patrick Bordnick, professor and director of the Virtual Reality Clinical Research Laboratory at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. “It’s a virtual reality cave-laboratory, which we use to study human behavior.”

“The Cave” is a 3D, virtual-reality environment projected onto the walls of a room.  Participants are placed in the very environments that trigger their addictions.  


“We put people in the environment to study craving and why they relapse to using across a variety of drugs—from heroin to cigarettes to alcohol—and by doing that, we can understand their behavior in the real world, and teach coping skills in the lab here,” he said. 

“The Cave” is a two-walled, virtual-reality environment, which uses eight infrared cameras that allow a person to walk through the 3D environments. The situations are researched and very realistic

“Virtual reality shutter glasses allow the person to see the images in 3D. It’s so lifelike, many want to pick up the beer bottle or cigarette in the environments,” Bordnick said. “On top is a device that allows the person to be tracked with the infrared cameras, so the environment where they walk around is just like the real world.”

“The Cave” is funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study substance abuse and to help young investigators become substance-abuse researchers

“Our hope is that, when participants go out into the real world, they’ll remember this experience, they’ll not use drugs, and remember the skills we taught them to cope with cravings,” he said.


The Cave is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.



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