Virtual Reality Helps Stop Smoking Addiction

Some say that quitting cigarette smoking is harder than quitting drugs like heroin or cocaine.  More and more restaurants, bars and public places are becoming “smoke free” and while tobacco companies shrug off health concerns from smoking, lung cancer remains one of the top killers in the U.S. today. Smoking is a choice, but it is also extremely addictive, and for those who want to quit, but cannot, it can be frustrating when the patches, gums and other interventions do not work.

The anatomy of a cigarette smoker is multi-faceted. There are physical, mental and even emotional ties to nicotine as well as the actual act of smoking, from bringing a cigarette to the mouth to the time of day in which a cigarette is smoked. The physical component of cigarette smoking is easier to break than the other habits that are formed during smoking, and with the advances in virtual reality animation and game design, a solution to curbing these extraneous habits may be near.

Virtual reality has been used for entertainment, for helping with PTSD and other emotional trauma and the benefits of processing these personality aspects in a safe environment, under the care of a specialist, can be life-changing and long-lasting. The virtual reality environment differs from a standard therapeutic environment because the additional stimulus that is encountered through virtual reality equipment is harder to subconsciously deny as “unrealistic” than solely basing interactions on the imagination of the patient led by a counselor or hypnotherapist. It is this reality that can stimulate the same responses of addicts, whether nicotine, alcohol or other addictions, and can, in turn, be a way to isolate those responses and practice healthier coping strategies. For smokers, a study showed that the virtual act of crushing out a cigarette versus virtually crushing a ball, showed a reduction in nicotine cravings, helping those who were crushing the virtual cigarettes quit their habit.

Virtual reality therapy continues to evolve as a way for animators and video game designers to do more than just create games for entertainment. There are countless ways in which virtual reality therapy can benefit people psychologically, as well as help change unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use and even how to make healthier food choices. Virtual reality therapy gives the patient the ability to experience, and react to, stimulus that can trigger unhealthy behaviors in people and give them the opportunity to change those behaviors without compromising their real-world progress. For smokers, this new treatment may truly mean the difference between life and death, and is a glimpse into the world of addiction and addiction treatment.

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