A preliminary report on the use of virtual reality technology to elicit craving and cue reactivity in cocaine dependent individuals

Addict Behav. 2006 Oct;31(10):1881-94. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2006.01.004. Epub 2006 Mar 3.


In the present feasibility study, we developed a 3-dimensional virtual "crack" cocaine environment and evaluated the environment's ability to elicit subjective craving and cue reactivity (i.e., subjective emotional responding, heart rate and skin conductance) in 11 crack cocaine dependent individuals. Each of the seven 3-D crack cocaine scenes in the cocaine environment depicted actors engaging in a range of using-related behaviors (i.e., smoking crack) whereas the neutral environment contained scenes depicted 3-D aquariums with active aquatic life (baseline measures were obtained following immersion in the neutral environment). Results indicated that craving was significantly elevated during the cocaine-related scenes as compared to baseline. Craving varied by scene content, with scenes depicting active cocaine use eliciting the highest levels of craving. Heart rate was significantly higher in four of the scenes with drug use content and positive affect (i.e., happiness) ratings were significantly lower during cocaine scenes as compared to baseline. Overall, the results suggest that a standardized and stimulus rich virtual reality environment effectively elicits craving and physiologic reactivity. Such technology has potential utility in the development and refinement of exposure-based behavioral and pharmacological interventions for substance use disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Computer Simulation / standards*
  • Crack Cocaine*
  • Cues*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*


  • Crack Cocaine