Can Computers Assist Treatment? Virtual Reality as a Possible Cue Exposure Technique With Adolescent Substance Abusers
Substance use disorders are one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses among adolescents; marijuana is the illicit drug used most frequently by youth. Treatment dropout and relapse following treatment are common; innovative strategies are needed to improve treatment outcomes for youth substance abusers. The aim of this study was to develop and evaluate the feasibility of a virtual reality (VR) cue reactivity paradigm for adolescent cannabis abusers and to compare it to a video cue reactivity paradigm. Forty-two treatment-seeking youth with a cannabis use disorder completed the study, which incorporated three parts. During Part 1, drug and neutral video clips were shown to 11 youth and five substance-abuse experts who provided craving/usefulness ratings for each video clip. During Part 2, five youth met in a focus group and then individually to provide input on the development of the VR paradigm. During Part 3, 26 youth completed a laboratory procedure involving neutral and drug-related video clips and VR presentations. Heart rate, skin conductance, and skin temperature were measured as well as craving. Higher levels of craving and skin conductance were observed during drug-related presentations. The presentations did not significantly differ in their ability to elicit craving and arousal. Results suggest that youth can experience subjective and physiological reactivity to VR drug cues warranting further study with a larger, more diverse sample. Implications are discussed.
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