Digital Rehab

Virtual reality might provide a powerful tool for recovery programs:

In decades past, researchers would try to treat smokers and alcoholics using real-life triggers. Show the addicts a lighter or an empty bottle, or even a photograph of something associated with smoking and drinking, to trigger cravings, then teach them coping strategies. It seemed to work, to some degree, but it was limited. Patients, after all, could tell they were in a lab, and they might not be able to transfer the coping mechanisms to an outside environment.

That’s where virtual reality comes in. It’s still only an approximation of reality, but researchers believe it has some advantages over earlier forms of treatment. For one, the immersiveness of the environment–a created world, in which almost anything can be a trigger–helps patients better transfer what they learned in the lab to the real world, researchers say.