Could virtual reality (VR) be used for helping users break free from illicit drug addiction? A rehabilitation center in Hangzhou, China is attempting to do just that.

As part of their detox program for methamphetamine, the Zhejiang Liangzhu Rehabilitation Center reportedly offers such treatment. Currently, patients at this drug rehabilitation center are put into VR scenarios while their heart rate is monitored. The VR experiences are immersive, involving a head mounted display. Both pleasant and unpleasant scenes are presented to the user; with the latter showing the detrimental impact of drug use on their lives as a form of aversion therapy. Scenes of relaxing, warm family moments are presented, to encourage the user to reflect on what they may be missing due to their lifestyle.

Xinhua News reports a clinical trial was conducted on the use of the VR exposure therapy amongst patients, with 75% showing reduced cravings, while a controlled group only showed 3% decrease. However, I was unable to find this study reported elsewhere, or further details on the methodology involved. As such, these findings should be regarded with caution until further data is available.

VR has been used in a variety of mental health areas, including PTSD, schizophrenia, and addiction. A recent meta-analysis in Nicotine Tobacco Research investigated the use of VR to provoke craving for cigarettes through smoking-related cues. It found a strong cue-reactivity effect, supporting the use of VR in such research involving triggering cravings. VR offers the possibility of immersive experiences in a controlled environment, with a litany of healthcare-related opportunities for its use.