Using Virtual Reality technologies for Drug Rehabilitation Silvia Bernardo January 9, 2019

Using Virtual Reality technologies for Drug Rehabilitation

The “VR for Drug Rehabilitation” project seeks to develop a rehabilitation model for drug-using probationers (between the ages of 18 and 30) by using VR technology.

The project “VR for Drug Rehabilitation” has been approved for funding by the European Commission.

The project name stands for “Developing and Using Virtual Reality Technology for Rehabilitation of Drug Users in Probation Services”. It targets the increasing number of drug users among young people since they tend to be more easily motivated to engage in treatment and rehabilitation programmes, in comparison to elder drug users.

The international consortia include the District Governorate of Torbali and the Izmir Denetimli Serbestlik Mudurgulu from Turkey; IPS Innovative Prison Systems from Portugal; and the Ege University Institute on Drug Abuse, Toxicology and Pharmaceutical Sciences-BATI from Turkey; PSIOUS VR Therapy (PSICO SMART APPS SL) from Spain and European Strategies Consulting from Romania.



According to the Council of Europe’s latest report, there are around 1.6 million persons under the supervision or care of the probation services in Europe, representing an average rate of 219 probationers per 100,000 inhabitants.

It is well documented the high prevalence of drug use among probationers, and the wider offender population. In fact, large proportions of the people who enter criminal justice systems and prison have a history of drug use and injecting.

Also, many of these people continue to use drugs while they are in prison, and for some, this can be an environment where they switch to more harmful patterns of drug use. Research also shows that ex-inmates return to environments that strongly trigger relapse to drug use and put them at risk for overdose.

For these reasons, prison and probation are important settings for the provision of responses addressing drug use and its harms to health (imprisonment is associated with higher rates of bloodborne virus infection among injecting drug users), prison safety and security, as well as the broader community through increased re-offending and infections on release.

Research shows that new technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and video games hold promise to support and enhance individuals in addiction treatment and recovery. Specifically, the use of Virtual Reality (VR) – immersive, multi-sensory and viewer-centred three-dimensional computer-generated environments – is gaining considerable attention as a research, education, and treatment tool.


The specific objectives of the project include a) the decrease of drug use and its harms among a vulnerable young population group (probationers) by developing and testing an innovative drug treatment programme that includes creating and adapting scenarios for the VR application that induce drug craving in the target group, as an additional tool to cue exposure therapy; developing an assessment tool for testing VR sessions’ effects on users; piloting the programme with the target group in the partner countries; b) to improve the quality and effectiveness of capacity building programmes within probation services, by developing a training programme for probation experts/officers (psychologist, social workers etc.) on how to deliver the VR drug treatment programme, in accordance with the individual needs of the cases previously tested; piloting the training programme in the partner countries; c) to extend results of the project which will be obtained after the pilot programmes in each partner country and run seminars to explain the project and share the results of VR treatment sessions for probationers.

For further information about “VR for Drug Rehabilitation” please contact