IU researchers working to help those in recovery through virtual reality

INDIANAPOLIS – Researchers at the IU School of Medicine are moving forward with technology they hope can help people recover from substance abuse disorders.

Virtual reality uses real avatars as participants. They can speak. The goal is to show people who are living again what their future will look like.

“For someone who is stuck in addiction, especially in the last stages, the time is really known now,” said Dr. Brandon Oberlin, an assistant professor of psychiatry with the IU School of Medicine. “It makes the decision to just like the current situation. This is not an adaptive strategy for modern humans and it is a sign of addiction in many ways.”

Oberlin and his team have been working on the technology for the past four years.

“That’s one of the strengths of virtual reality is that it allows you to do the impossible,” Oberlin said. We can say to ourselves things that we have not said, which can be useful therapeutically.

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Presented/Andrew Nelson

Dr. Brandon Oberlin (right) and his avatar

“People often call virtual reality the empathy machine… if you’re in that way of going into a virtual world, you kind of lose a lot of your mental blocks that separate you from things, ”
Andrew Nelson, CEO of Indianapolis-based virtual reality startup Half Full Nelson, said.

READ: VR pilot research and experiences

Jacob Thomas was recruited to be part of the experience 18 months ago. It was his first time in any kind of reality.

“It really made a difference … I really saw myself in a situation where I needed to change,” Thomas said. “It gave me a choice to see myself in the future where I would be if I continued and where I would be if I had a good recovery. in my life I wanted to be successful I eat.”

He struggled with drug abuse for about 12 years and had problems with family members. Thomas is now married and his daughter has a father whom he sees every day. They have twins on the way.

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Jacob Thomas

Presented/Jacob Thomas

Jacob Thomas with his wife and daughter

“In the past, although I knew that drug use might be a problem not only for myself, but for other people, I didn’t really relate to the problem for me, maybe it was a problem that I could to finish,” said Thomas. “But after doing the training, it allowed me to see for myself how it affects me and what I need to change.”

Last year, Thomas lost two of his brothers, Jereme and Joshua, to overdoses.

Jacob Thomas and Brothers.png

Presented/Jacob Thomas

Jacob Thomas with his brothers Jereme and Joshua

Now he wants to live a traditional life to honor them and hopefully inspire others.

“I think there’s an important role for vr, especially in mental health applications, not just addictions,” Oberlin said. “I want to see something that moves the needle.”

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Over the past five months, Oberlin’s team has been awarded more than $4.9 million to advance their work. The grants will support clinical trials designed to test the effectiveness of relapse prevention, brain stimulation and other factors associated with cancer drug use. , Oberlin said.

For example, one study provides virtual reality experiences via headsets for people to use at home, while remote delivery of mental health services addresses a critical need for those who can. unwilling or unable to enter a human body setting.

There are also plans for future clinical trials.

“We can’t make any claims about how well we did in the pilot,” Oberlin said. “Without a control group … we can’t really make any claims. We think we’ve got something promising that needs to be explored. We think it’s valuable, and it’s very innovative. “

Oberlin also filed for international patent protection on the technology.


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