A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects.With interactive 3D environments, users take the form of avatars visible to others.These avatars usually appear as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional representations.
This kind of virtual environment is used in many fields including medical,education etc.It makes learning fun and interesting.Its interesting features encouraged developers to create new and innovative virtual worlds for various purposes.
Now,a new collection of virtual reality worlds are designed to recreate the environment of an addict to help people in developing strategies to stay clean.Though mostly used to treat alcoholics and smokers, the virtual worlds are now being programmed for cocaine and heroin users.
Zach Rosenthal, an assistant professor at Duke, with funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Department of Defense has created the simulations and tested the programs on about 90 people.
Virtual reality trials have tested the reaction of subjects hooked up to the system and sent an approximation of their choice of environment, be it a neighborhood bar or a crack house.Equipment like pipes and needles can be added based on the addict’s unique personal history.
The methodology used in this is called cue reactivity,which is mostly used to treat phobias till date.
The cue is the trigger that sets a person off, such as a spider for people who suffer from arachnophobia or a bottle of beer for an alcoholic. The reactivity is just the reaction the cue induces – fear in the case of the spider or a bender in the case of the alcoholic.
Addicts will be presented with an empty bottle or a cigarette lighter which can trigger their craving so they can understand coping strategies.These exercises could be done only in lab.However,virtual reality offers the closest possible version of the real thing.
“If I wanted to teach you to ride a bike, I could show you a video of a bike”,said University of Houston professor Patrick Bordnick. “But wouldn’t it be better if I could actually get you on a real bike?”
The environments can be customized according to addicts unique history, with the Budweiser they’d ask for in the real world appearing exactly the same in virtual reality.
A practical study treating 46 adult smokers for ten weeks gave one group into virtual reality treatment and nicotine replacement therapy while the other got along without the simulated worlds.
The technology is too new to be used by itself and is generally administered with more traditional treatments.Most of the experiments earlier have dealt with smokers and alcoholics but the environments are being expanded to accommodate users who are addicted to drugs.
The study found the group getting virtual sessions has a ‘significantly lower’ instance of smoking rates and cravings.
With the successful trail,the researchers are viewing this kind of treatment as a supplement to more traditional forms of addiction treatment.