Can Virtual Reality Help Fight Gambling Addiction?

min read
A person uses VR technology with neon lights in the forefront.
BetMGM Nov 13, 2023, 10:17 AM

We all know VR technology is a game-changer for online casino games. Imagine playing your favorite online slot and immersing yourself in the world and graphics of the game. But there’s more to VR technology than improved gaming interfaces. Virtual reality could be the answer to problem gambling and addiction. Let’s look at how VR therapy works and how to find help if you or a loved one suffers from gambling addiction.

What Is Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) uses computer-generated environments with 3D objects and scenes to immerse users in virtual life-like surroundings. The technology uses pose tracking and 3D near-eye displays to make users feel like they are inside a virtual world that moves as they do. Users perceive this virtual environment using devices known as VR headsets or helmets. Companies are using this technology in education, entertainment, and business. It’s also entering the casino game market. 

VR is not a new invention; it’s been around since the 1950s. But as technology and software advance with time, programs are becoming more realistic. Let’s look at how VR is being used to help problem gamblers.

What Is Problem Gambling?

Things can get out of hand if you don’t have limits and budgets when you play for fun at a casino. If this becomes a pattern and your gaming is no longer within your control, you may have an addiction.

Problem gambling disrupts your daily life and the lives of people around you. Playing an online slot machine once or twice a week isn’t harmful. However, it shouldn’t become an addiction you depend on to alleviate negative emotions. It’s tricky to draw the line between problem gamblers and professional or regular gamblers. Look at the following symptoms and signs to see if you could have a gambling problem. These warning signs will also help gamblers understand the science of addiction and problem gambling.

Symptoms of gambling addiction

You may have a gambling or addiction problem if you find yourself:

  • Spending increased amounts of time gambling and always thinking about gambling
  • Feeling the need to increase the amount you bet to get the same thrill and excitement
  • Using gambling to escape emotional problems like depression, anxiety, guilt, and stress
  • Not being able to stop or reduce gambling when you try and feeling restless and irritable because of it
  • Using gambling as a way to get back money you’ve lost
  • Risking your job, school, opportunities, and important opportunities because of gambling
  • Lying to family and friends to hide the extent of your gambling

What Is the Best Treatment for Gambling Addiction?

Counselors and specialists use many different tools to help problem gamblers. However, the most studied treatment with the most evidence to back it up is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on resolving negative thoughts and behaviors that encourage habits like gambling.

CBT is a talk therapy that looks at how you think and how that thinking leads to certain behaviors. For a gambling addiction, your goal would be to correct distorted thoughts about gambling and develop practical problem-solving skills for these thoughts and behaviors. While several studies show that CBT is very effective for problem gambling, therapists can go even further and provide even better treatment with the help of VR tech.

How Does VR Therapy Work?

Not everyone responds purely to support groups and counseling to overcome problematic behavior. The treatment must deal with thoughts and triggers, which is why CBT is effective. When CBT and counseling aren’t enough, therapists have to find ways to trigger patients’ anxieties and negative thought patterns to help them retrain their brains. This is where VR tech comes in.

To help a suffering addict, you need to put them in situations where they have access to their addictions and their emotions are triggered. However, many therapists prefer not to expose their clients to their addiction because it can lead to relapses in the future. VR tech presents an ethical way to help people face their triggers and see if they can overcome them. The VR experience of a virtual casino is so immersive it will elicit the same cravings that addicts face in a real casino.

One of the benefits of VR therapy is that the virtual worlds can be adjusted and changed. Counselors and therapists can control the intensity of the VR experience to avoid overwhelming their patients or leading them back to addiction. Therapists and guides can even begin VR therapy outside the casino and see the effects before heading in. The intensity of the experience can increase until patients can engage in casino games. Here, the counselor will ask questions about their thoughts, emotions, and actions.

Is VR Therapy an Effective Treatment for Problem Gambling?

Virtual reality therapy is still in its early research stage. VR companies are working with therapists, graphic artists, animators, sound specialists, computer engineers, and programmers to see what’s possible.

Does VR therapy create a realistic gambling experience?

There are many questions studies had to answer to show if VR therapy was an effective CBT tool. For starters, does VR therapy elicit a desire to gamble in addicts even though there’s no real money at stake? A study comparing VR-induced cravings to real gambling cravings found that the answer was yes. The VR immersion worked so well that participants began enacting their gambling rituals and patterns of behavior.

Is VR therapy both safe and effective?

The second question researchers had to answer was if VR treatment could lead to uncontrollable urges or relapses. The realistic worlds created by VR tech give gamblers a realistic view of their progress and underlying emotions and urges, but can it also be just as triggering as being in a casino?

A couple of studies were done to see if the treatment was effective and safe. Patients were put on VR therapy and various other addiction treatments and then given a questionnaire about their urges or cravings afterward. Other methods involved imagining they were gambling using CBT without the VR immersion. The studies revealed that VR immersion helped therapists identify twice as many problematic thoughts compared to imaginary exercises. They also discovered that VR therapy didn’t pose higher risks of relapsing. There was no recorded difference in urges to gamble compared to imaginary stimuli.

Gambling addiction leads to a higher rate of suicide attempts than any other addiction disorder. New treatment methods can help save lives. VR therapy is a groundbreaking tool to help problem gamblers. Not only does it make it easier for therapists to assess their patients, but it’s also safer than real-life gaming alternatives.

Where To Go For Gambling Addiction

If you feel you or someone you know may have a gambling addiction, reach out. Visit the BetMGM and GameSense Responsible Gaming page to find helpful resources for you and your family. Call the problem gambling helpline on 1-800-GAMBLER to speak to someone about getting help. Or call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

Keep Gambling Fun and Play Responsibly With BetMGM

BetMGM is not just committed to providing the best online slots and games but also to encouraging responsible gaming. Always make a gambling budget and set time limits. Don’t chase your losses or be controlled by emotions when you play. Register with BetMGM to keep gambling fun and enjoy the best table games, slots, and sports betting options.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.