Zach Rosenthal, a clinical psychologist at Duke University, has unveiled a new “virtual reality” program that uses pavlovian conditioning to try and treat crack addicts. While the details are a bit vague, the program appears to be a “virtual world” in which addicts can experience virtual cravings. Here are some more details on how the program is meant to work from an ABC News article:
When temptation arises in certain situations, the patient rates his or her own craving level. But the magic moment comes when a high craving subsides, which it does, because the patient won’t be taking drugs in the virtual world.
The therapist tries to tie that moment, when a craving subsides, to a trigger, like a tone. So the addict eventually learns to associate the sound with the sensation of decreased craving.
The ultimate goal is to stop a craving before it begins, even if an addict walks into a tempting situation in the real world.
For example, if an addict ends up in a tempting situation, he or she can take out the phone donated by the program, dial a number and hear that tone. The addict remembers the sound learned in the therapy session, and the craving should subside.