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A key challenge in helping people to recover for cocaine dependence is their craving, that can be triggered by ‘cues’ in their environment, such as situations or objects, which remind them of the pleasurable effects of cocaine. This process is known as ‘classical conditioning’ and the aim of this research is to reduce the risk of relapse to cocaine through use of novel technologies to reduce craving.

Why do we want to do this?

Previous research in people with alcohol dependence showed that repeated exposure to triggers (or cues) for alcohol use, in a safe treatment environment, can significantly reduce their level of craving and relapse. This is known as ‘cue exposure treatment’ (CET). But CET has not been fully explored as a treatment for cocaine addiction, although several studies have shown its potential.

The development of new technologies including virtual reality (VR) and wearable devices, to record real-time physical responses to cues in the patient’s everyday environment, offer novel ways to deliver CET to help people overcome cocaine dependence.

What we plan to study:

In this research we are planning to use VR to develop more realistic CET environments which are tailored to the individual’s experiences, and hence have a greater impact on reducing craving than previously available methods.

We aim to identify in real time, using wearable devices, when they experience an episode of craving or start using cocaine again. We will use this to understand what real-life situations or circumstances have triggered these events, and allow us to provide support remotely when we detect they encounter situations that increase their risk of relapse. We will test the ability of technology-enhanced CET to reduce craving and relapse to cocaine use, compared to people receiving usual care.

Our Partners

University of Birmingham logo

University of Birmingham

University of Southampton

University of Southampton

University of East Anglia

University of East Anglia

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University of Hull