Augmented & Virtual Reality in Addiction Treatment

Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality have captured our imagination, as people and entire industries contemplate the myriad of ways we can integrate them into society.

The products we use, the places we visit, the very nature of how we live our lives will inevitably be dramatically changed based on how these new-wave technologies are implemented. Even now, innovative software and applications are being rolled out to take advantage of the resources this technology has to offer.

Addiction treatment is no stranger to these advances. While this technology may still be finding its footing, it is extremely useful to examine some of the current product offerings — and envision some others — to assist in our national battle against addiction.

Virtual Reality (VR) and its relative cousin Augmented Reality (AR) provide a unique possibility of presenting life-like situations while avoiding some of the messy, real-life consequences. This presents an amazing opportunity on so many levels.

The first phase is of course very predictable; as with any nascent industry, the initial knee-jerk reaction is to consider how to best exploit the technology for the greatest financial gain. So, it comes as no surprise that early uses have been targeted towards entertainment.

However, as that area gets fully saturated, businesses have begun to contemplate which other niche uses are worth exploring. As a result, VR and AR are now being applied to other, arguably more productive, endeavors.

New Technology In Patient Care

As of late, psychiatrists and psychologists have been offered pre-market trials of AR- and VR-related technology, placing patients in particular situations in which they are forced to confront the psychosis they are trying to address.

In the past, doctors might have tried to deaden the pain with medication or make use of some clinical exercise or role play. And, while those options have merit, depending on the circumstance, each falls short in its own way. With the advent of VR and AR, we now have a compelling alternative.

Imagine placing a recovering addict in a restaurant or a bar, or out on the street being offered some drugs.

You wouldn’t chance that in real life. However, with AR and VR, you have the option of doing that exact same thing to create a stronger and more lasting imprint, better preparing the patient-addict for exposure to similar post-treatment scenarios.

Since its use is so relatively new, there are no evidence-based studies on this as of yet, but the early anecdotal results are quite encouraging. It has shown to be effective for people with phobias, impulse control issues and in several other areas in which exposing people to stimuli is required to advance treatment. It seems likely that continued experimentation with these technologies will only continue to prove more of the same progress, offering interesting potential in the advancement of the overall efficacy of addiction treatment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents its own potential; coming at treatment from a different perspective. Medical treatment overall, and addiction treatment in particular, are hampered by the fact that no two individuals are exactly alike.

There are just so many different factors at play.

In some respects, it’s essentially like a sub-science of chaos theory, in which the same situation presents itself but with a multitude of potential outcomes. You know what the possibilities are, but you can’t predict with sufficient certainty what will next occur. We would benefit tremendously from such certainty. If we could only standardize the process, then we could truly achieve consistent, successful results.

That’s where AI comes in.

AI has two overwhelming attributes that assist us in this regard: Firstly, AI affords the opportunity to crunch numbers on a massive scale. Doctors themselves are limited by the number of situations that present themselves, the amount of time they have to read books and journals, and the basic human frailty of imperfect memories and capacity of recall. AI can be exposed to more cases in one hour than a human can experience in an entire lifetime. That’s a huge advantage.

Plus, computers never forget and, unlike human brains, they can be backed up in case of minor damage or even catastrophic failure.

Experimentation With AI For Diagnosing Illnesses

The second key component of AI is machine learning.

Not only can computers process a gargantuan amount of information, they now have the capacity to independently assess and allocate it accordingly in figuring out how to make the best use of it.

Professionals are now experimenting with AI in diagnosing serious illnesses and, in most cases, have proven to be even more accurate than doctors themselves (The Economist, “Of Prediction and Policy”, August 20th-26th, 2016).

AI has also provided new insights and perspectives.

For example, we used to treat all cancers based on the affected organ, but thanks in part to AI, we’ve grown to understand that treating cancer is much more complicated. There are many other vital relevant factors than just mere location. As a result, treatment has become much more successful and cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was.

By bringing this diagnostic capacity to addiction analysis, we can create a better process for treating patients. With greater volumes of information and greater ability to predict outcomes, we’ll have greater accuracy in targeting patient treatment. At some point, we may even have the capacity to use AI to tailor-make treatment to a specific individual addict’s needs. Wouldn’t that be something?

AI, AR and VR are still all undeniably in their infancy. Yet, even now, they show great promise. The addiction treatment field is uniquely situated to obtain significant benefits from its increased implementation and ubiquity.

The environment is now ripe for innovative and creative solutions.

Here at Kipu, we take this opportunity very seriously and constantly seek out possibilities to integrate new technology into our proprietary environment. Our recent acquisitions of PingMD and “In Recovery” magazine were made with that in mind.

We’re not comfortable resting on our laurels, we prefer actively engaging in constructive change. We have some exciting plans for this coming year, and perhaps even a few more surprises, because if we’re not moving forward, then we’re falling behind. The future of addiction treatment will continue to be driven by our deep desire to cure the disease — and the only limit is our imagination!

Please visit my CEO Blog to read more about the business of addiction treatment and recovery. Thank you.