Virtual reality could potentially transform the way we treat addiction. In this TEDx talk lawyer Ken Stoner discuss how virtual reality could be an extremely effective treatment for addiction.
Stoner starts off by talking about his admiration for Thomas Jefferson. He points out that despite his admiration for Jefferson even this great man owned slaves. When we look back at Jefferson we find it hard to see how he could support the institution of slavery. Stoner suggests that it is useful to look at what we are doing today, that we might be ashamed of in the future.
One of these is the way we treat addicts. We know that addiction is a problem of the brain. But the way we treat addicts is to lock them up. In effect we expect addicts to treat themselves through sheer will power.
As a lawyer Stoner admits he has played his part in this system. He has locked up numerous people whose fundamental problem is addiction. Stoner believes we have learn how to respond in a better different way.
Stoner states that most crimes have has an underlying problem which is addiction. He believe crime could be cut by as much as 50% by treating addiction.
Part of the problem is that legal professionals get zero training in addiction. We can solve the crime but if we don’t dress the underlying cause it will be the old axiom of a revolving door of justice.
Stoner cites the statistic that there are 66 million people who have binge drinking in the past week. 23.4 million have a problem with addiction to drugs.
There is a tension between the prefrontal cortex and the Nucleus Accumbens. The prefrontal cortex is where goal setting and executive function takes place. The Nucleus Accumbens or lizard brain is the brain’s pleasure centre. It releases dopamine in order to encourage behaviour which increases the chances of survival. However when we have a massively over stimulated Nucleus Accumbens you cannot think about anything else. Drugs lead cause this massive overstimulation of dopamine.
When we have a good meal or have sex we get a shot of dopamine. Stoner asks us to imagine giving up sex and a good meal for year. It is five times more difficult to give up drugs.
Most people who receive treatment relapse. One of the best ways of assisting with addiction treatment is through engaging in social activities. Unfortunately these social activities also tend to be full of triggers for engaging in addictive behaviour such as the presence of alcohol.
Stoner had an insight into the power of virtual reality for medicine at a burn hospital. At the burn hospital patients were being treated with a virtual reality experience. In the experience they were walking through a snow filled area. As they did the pain from their burns started to drop.
Virtual reality can be used to prepare addicts for the triggers that lead to relapse. In a virtual reality environment a person can be exposed to a trigger rich environment such as sporting event. They can see the urge to take a drink, then see that urges come and the go. They can become familiar with the triggers but know that they will pass. All of this can be conducted in a safe clinical environment.
Overtime addicts can train themselves to overcome the triggers that lead to addiction. It is a humane new approach that could have a drastic impact on addiction and crime.