Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Rewriting Life

Kick That Habit (the Virtual Way)

Quitting addictive drugs is a frustrating-and often futile-process. All around the struggling addict are environmental cues that can prompt a craving for the drug. Help through this difficult experience might come from an unexpected quarter: virtual reality.

The idea is to desensitize drug users to the sights, sounds and smells that trigger the urge to get high, says Jose Gonzales, CEO of TRI Center, a for-profit chemical dependency treatment center in New York City.

Gonzales places the addict seeking treatment in an immersive virtual reality rig. While a headset displays a video from a laser disc, sensors monitor respiration rate, pulse rate, perspiration and skin temperature; therapists correlate spikes in bodily responses to particular scenes from the videodisc. Once the triggers are identified, TRI subjects its clients to the most provocative scenes over and over again. By watching the instrumentation readouts, the subjects learn to suppress their cravings.

This story is part of our March/April 1999 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Gonzales can, so far, offer only anecdotal evidence that TRI’s technology works. But the novel approach has impressed some experts who have seen it demonstrated. “This is potentially valuable and merits further research,” says Peter Berke, a social worker at Managed Health Care Systems of New York. “I applaud the attempt to do something new and different.”

AI is here. Will you lead or follow? Countdown to EmTech Digital 2019 has begun.

Register now
More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to MIT Technology Review.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivered daily

  • All Access Digital {! insider.prices.digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The digital magazine, plus unlimited site access, our online archive, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    Digital magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    The Download: newsletter delivered daily

  • Print Subscription {! insider.prices.print_only !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six print issues per year plus The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Print magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    The Download: newsletter delivered daily

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.