YOUR HEALTH: Using virtual reality to treat addictions

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – 115-people die from an opioid overdose every day in the U.S.

But addiction and overuse were not even on Felicia Kleinpeter's radar when she was prescribed painkillers after a car accident.

"They made me feel very euphoric. I use to joke that they were my double cappuccinos."

But that quickly turned into a very heavy dependence.

"I lost my family, my husband, my children. I was declared an unfit mother in court."

Her partner, Christopher O'Shea, also struggled with alcohol addiction.

"I have been in long-term recovery for well over 30 years."

They are excited to be one of the first to use a virtual headset to help others struggling with addiction in their rehab facility.

During a therapy session, the headset places patients in realistic virtual situations that trigger cravings of drug and alcohol addiction.

"The therapist can accompany you while you're in a bar or a party setting and teach you skills in that therapy session," said Patrick Bordnick, the dean of Tulane University's School of Social Work.

Skills that can help with long-term sobriety.

COPING:   Some coping mechanisms that experts recommend to those dealing with addiction are:

  • Tell someone that you're having urges to use
  • Call a friend, a support, or someone in recovery.   Share with them what you're going through.
  • Distract yourself.   When you think about using, do something to occupy yourself.
  • Go to a meeting.  Get up and go for a walk. If you just sit there with your urge and don't do anything, you're giving your mental relapse room to grow.
  • Wait for 30 minutes.   Most urges usually last for less than 15 to 30 minutes.   When you're in an urge, it feels like an eternity.   But if you can keep yourself busy and do the things you're supposed to do, it'll quickly be gone.

For those just beginning their recovery, O'Shea says it's a struggle, but with practice it gets easier.

"This isn't a life sentence. This is just a today sentence."

From his research on using virtual reality for addiction, Professor Bordnick is now looking to use virtual reality to empower children and adults with autism with job interviewing skills and social interaction.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

 

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