Pavlov’s Addicts?

Using in public is one of the worst things.  It’s always accompanied by paranoia, worry of passing out in the bathroom or doing something really stupid, or getting caught.  It helps when there are a million people around, like in a crowded bar or nightclub, but such places are also usually crawling with cops.  A morning show had a segment about a guy who created a virtual reality computer system to train the brain to overcome cravings.  The program has so far only been designed for crack addicts.  He’s making programs for other drugs, and will eventually make them for addictions to things like food and gambling.

The program resembled a sleazy video game without the shoot ’em up aspect.  It had a first-person view.  Segments were shown of the interior of a crack house, seedy people hanging out in dark corners, and dealers standing around waiting to make a deal.  The house was specific to some area in North Carolina.  It was complete with a rundown lawn, a sordid interior, dirty mattresses, and scruffy virtual characters up to heaps of trouble.  The idea is that the user ranks cravings on a scale while seeing all of this.  Since it’s virtual reality and the addict is in a safe environment, s/he cannot give into cravings and use in the moment.  The program then creates an auditory tone in response to the addict’s cravings.  The person hears the tone whenever cravings strike.  The example tone featured on the show was a three-note sequence in which the last two notes were lower than the first, which I assume is intended to be somewhat calming to the listener.  The addict can then call a phone number any time s/he is experiencing a craving and hear the personalized tone, which is supposed to eliminate the craving.

Pavlov’s dogs, right?  Cute idea, but I don’t know how promising it is.  First, the program can’t replicate environments specific to each user.  Similarities can probably be drawn between any crack house, but it is vastly different when, for instance, a user must actually walk past his former crack house each day on his way to work (since he is presumably now recuperated and integrated into mainstream society).  Second, it seems a little gimmicky.  Come on, a former crack addict is going to be trained as easily as one of Pavlov’s dogs to just eliminate cravings by the sound of a tone?  What about when the person is confronted with opportunities from old peers to use?  What about when his former dealer tracks him down and offers him a free hit or two to get him using again?  The morning show interviewed a former crack addict who had presumably been cured by this program.  He raved and raved about it.  He admitted that he had relapsed a number of times, but he is “now” clean.  He must know that statistically he’s not favored to stay that way.  I don’t know if the sound of a tone will be the magic cure-all for drug cravings. 

I don’t know why I get so angry at anyone’s attempts to help.  Certainly, the man who created the virtual reality program is only trying to help, and maybe his system works.  When a doctor wants to inject dye to see which parts of my brain light up and which parts don’t work, the last thing I should say is, “I’m not a fucking pinball machine.”  If my hands are perpetually freezing because my heart isn’t pumping blood correctly, or I have chest pains because my heart beats irregularly, then the sensible thing to do is take a doctor’s advice and undergo tests.  I don’t know why some people are so stubborn about accepting help.  Maybe it’s Irish genes, or maybe stubbornness served an archaic evolutionary advantage.  In contemporary society, it seems just as likely to kill as save a person. 

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