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How can VR therapy help people with addictions?

Joanna Pidanty - April 16, 2024 - 0 comments

Addictions are driven by the desire to find pleasure and avoid suffering. They are harmful because they lead to long-term negative consequences. An addicted individual pursues fleeting moments of relief, often at the cost of family, health, finances, career, and safety. They neglect their responsibilities and lose their social commitment. Recovery from addiction requires support through therapeutic treatment, which may include VR therapy.

The meaning of addiction

Addiction is recognised when there is a lack of control over compulsive behaviour or the habitual use of substances. When life becomes centred around compulsive behaviour or focused on obtaining and using substances, then addiction becomes a reality. There are speculations that addiction may have a genetic origin. More than genetic factors, situational and psychological aspects play a significant role in addiction. Life difficulties, specifically the inability and lack of resources to cope with challenges constructively, can significantly influence the development of addiction. Addiction can develop from anything that seemingly helps cope with stress in difficult situations, gives rewards, and avoids suffering. There is a wide range of behaviours and substances that can lead to addiction. The most addictive potential lies in psychoactive substances, which rapidly cause destruction. The most common addictions include: alcoholism, nicotine addiction, drug addiction, medication addiction, sex addiction, work addiction, shopping addiction, internet addiction, and gambling. Addictions are categorised into psychological and physical addictions, as well as another classification that distinguishes between addictions to active substances and behavioural addictions. This classification is quite conventional because an addiction can simultaneously take on various forms. No matter which type of addiction, the core of it is the habitual regulation of emotions, which is a maladaptive strategy that exacerbates problems.

Addiction is characterised by a strong compulsion to use a substance or perform an activity for momentary relief.

Escaping from problems

Addictive behaviours can be a way to escape from a difficult reality, a means to temporarily improve one’s well-being. Addictions enable individuals to distance themselves from problems, serving as a coping mechanism for difficult experiences and emotions. Problems we cannot cope with are a source of stress and a feeling of being trapped in an uncomfortable situation. Seeking escape from problems in substances or addictive behaviours can be associated with an environment that promotes such methods for regulating emotions and reducing stress. Detaching from problematic reality (pain, anxiety, stress) by using substances or activities with addictive potential gradually consumes more energy over time. Over time, developing tolerance to a substance means needing more of it. There are difficulties with self-control and inhibition. An ongoing problem in many countries is the abuse of strong painkillers. The uncontrollable need to use medication can drive an addicted person toward unethical and illegal behaviours, such as obtaining prescriptions fraudulently. Addiction starts to become the most nurtured area, pursued at the expense of all other aspects of life. It leads to interpersonal, intrapsychic, and health problems from which the addicted person would like to break free, but unfortunately does so using anti-developmental solutions.

Addiction is not free from problems; it causes them to multiply.

Psychophysiological health problems

Addiction is defined as an acquired condition of physical and mental health disorder. Addiction exposes to serious health consequences. Depending on the type of addiction, these may include: poisoning, organ damage and dysfunction, decreased respiratory function, lowered immunity, hormonal imbalance, and sleep disturbances. Addictions are closely associated with mental health issues. Psychological disorders can lead to addiction and be its consequence. Addiction can also be a behavioural mask of depression, as you can read about it here. Anxiety disorders, symptoms of depression, and chronic stress co-occur with addiction and can mutually reinforce each other. Addiction becomes suffering that leads to suicidal thoughts. Addiction, like depression, increases the risk of losing one’s life.

Virtual therapy and relaxation

Addiction enslaves the mind and body. An addicted person feels powerless, and attempting to refrain from addictive behaviours requires effort. Withdrawal from a stimulus to which the body has become accustomed is physically and psychologically unpleasant. Escaping the grip of addiction requires motivation, a willingness to change, and a desire to repair one’s life. The foundation of addiction therapy is psychotherapy, which is necessary for understanding the causes of the problem, understanding oneself, and recognising emotions. Therapy aims to strengthen and facilitate taking control over behaviour and life. Individuals struggling with addiction typically experience high levels of stress and anxiety. Therefore, besides therapy, relaxation is recommended as a way to cope with stress. Traditional methods of helping addicted individuals can successfully be complemented by modern VR-based technologies. Virtual Reality allows for creating immersive experiences that reduce stress. Virtual therapy like VR TierOne has been proven to effectively alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, while strengthening internal resources. Virtual relaxation with VR TierOne GO, using specially designed VR relaxation videos, allows for reducing tension. Both interventions using VR goggles can provide support for individuals dealing with difficult emotions, challenging mental states, and emotional distress. The presence of a virtual lecturer-therapist motivates and supports achieving better well-being. Virtual space allows for mindful presence in the current moment. This is crucial for addicted individuals who, through their addiction, have become disconnected from their community and themselves.

AL-MED Mental Health Centre in Wodzisław Śląski utilises virtual therapy and relaxation devices in addiction therapy.

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