A Pilot Study: Virtual Reality-Delivered Support Groups for Substance Use Disorders
Substance abuse often occurs as a way to cope with negative affect and life stressors in an unsupportive social context. As a result, affective regulation and social support play a key role in relapse prevention and recovery. The purpose of this study was to test the feasibility of a novel virtual reality (VR)-based peer support community. The objectives for this intervention were to provide affective regulation and social support to individuals seeking substance abuse recovery. Seventeen participants in recovery attended virtual peer-support meetings for at least two months. All participants completed questionnaires to assess perceived online social support, group therapy alliance, and changes in affect from attending VR sessions. Structured qualitative interviews with eleven participants revealed the psychological benefits and social support offered by sessions along with various challenges in navigating VR and the user interface. Quantitative data showed that improvement in mood, perceived online social support, and satisfaction with group-therapy alliance were associated with VR meeting attendance. With further research and improvements, this virtual intervention may be an effective tool to teach cognitive-behavioral skills, regulate affect, and provide social support to individuals who are at risk for relapse or in long-term recovery.