Australian researchers use virtual reality to treat gambling addiction

Researchers in Australia have begun testing a world-first brain research facility to treat people with a range of addictions, including gambling addiction.

A woman using virtual reality goggles

Virtual reality could for the future for testing and treating addiction. © Pexels.

The so-called BrainPark, at the Monash Institute in Melbourne, combines neuroscience with virtual reality to diagnose and then treat addictions. The researchers hope that it could change the way addictions are treated and put an end to medication based treatment.

Through virtual reality, gambling addicts are able to challenge their triggers and compulsions, but in a test, virtual reality gambling environment. The researchers can then measure brain responses to addicts’ experiences in the virtual gambling environments, to see which physical and brain responses comprise their addictive behaviour.

These behaviours can then be eradicated by actively retraining physical responses to gambling.

The facility cost $3m and is a joint collaboration between the Monash University and the David Winston Turner Endowment Fund.

Speaking about the treatment, Dr Rebecca Segrave, director of BrainPark, said:

Therapeutic virtual reality is a game-changer for mental illness. It can put a clinician, a client and their habits together in a realistic addiction hot zone, where they can work to retrain new responses to cannabis, alcohol, gambling or amphetamines. There’s a whole library of problematic triggering situations that are really difficult to access in the real world, which can be available in a clinician’s office through the flick of a switch.Dr Rebecca Segrave, BrainPark director

The facility is currently in a research stage, but it is hoped that a clinic designed to treat patients could be up and running in two years.

Problem gambling is on the rise in Australia, where ‘pokies’ – electronic poker machines – are the form of gambling of choice.

The country features more slot machines than any other country, while last year, gamblers blew almost £14bn throughout the year.

Those losses are the highest in the world, while there an estimated 200,000 people thought to have a serious gambling problem.

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