For many people, dealing with dependency can seem daunting. In the midst of a national epidemic causing millions the need for opioid addiction help, kicking an addiction to opioids has become an increasingly difficult summit to surmount.

Luckily, in addition to support from family and community, revolutionary new technologies can ease the road to recovery. There are a number of emerging experimental treatment options, but the most recent seems like something out of science fiction: virtual dependence therapy.

Virtual Reality and Addiction

How Does Virtual Reality Treat Addiction?

Noah Robinson, a graduate student of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, is in the process of developing a virtual dependency therapy to help patients to learn how to refuse compulsive behaviors that perpetuate addiction.

The virtual reality (VR) technology places patients in a digital world that is isolated from reality. By flooding the VR gear with sounds and shapes, the program attempts to separate the patient from their feelings of physical dependency and negative emotions. It offers a safe environment for patients to achieve a sense of calm while working through their addictions.

Some of the VR experiences involve turning down a drug, while others offer one-on-one therapy sessions. Robinson’s treatment program also includes a cartoon avatar of the patient’s therapist, so that the patient will be able to better receive the therapeutic messages without the fear and anxiety of traditional talk therapy.

Progress for Experimental VR Programs

Dynamic and creative approaches such as Robinson’s virtual dependency fighter are making headway against Tennessee's opioid crisis, and that progress is turning heads. The research shows 29 of 30 patients who tried VR therapy program reported an improved mental outlook, according to Robinson.

“We’ve got to get more proactive, and I believe that trying to find new and innovative solutions that may be of benefit to people is the way to go,” Brian Wind, chief of clinical operations at JourneyPure, told the Tennessean. JourneyPure is an inpatient rehabilitation center where Dr. Robinson’s treatment is being tested.

The Trump administration's opioid initiative plans to fund new ways to treat opioid addiction. The program, which is not yet available, is under review for more formal testing with detox patients.

While the approach is unorthodox, patients who try the new therapy show increased positive feelings, which can stop relapse from happening down the road. In an interview on Vanderbilt University's website, Robinson said, “If you can create an intervention that is as accessible for the addict as the drug, perhaps they can choose the intervention over the drug."