Ivana Steigman

Thrive Research, USA.

Title: Avatar-based recovery: An alternative substance abuse treatment


Ivana Steigman MD/PhD is Vice-President of Clinical Design and Content at Thrive Research in Los Altos, CA. Her research focuses on the use of virtual reality in behavioral medicine. A co-founder of InWorld Solutions, Dr. Steigman has extensive experience in the design of clinical protocols, clinical user interfaces, and application of virtual reality tools to individual and group clinical settings. She has been involved in all aspects of the development of an avatar-based virtual reality platform to assist clinical psychologists in behavioral skills training, cue exposure therapy and other clinical modalities.


Substance abuse is a devastating public health problem that can cause adverse health effects and negative life outcomes. Behavioral therapies such as CBT have shown some efficacy in treating substance use disorders, but constraints on access and questions of real-life applicability have demonstrated the need for alternative modalities of substance abuse treatment. Avatar-Based Recovery (ABR) Program is a web-based program consisting of patient and clinical interfaces, web-based assessments, psycho-educational modules, compliance tools, and a virtual reality world for behavioral skills practice and social support. ABR can deliver direct-care services to those whose disability or physical distance limits access to treatment centers. ABR also provides a convenient, anonymous, less threatening way to explore treatment. ABR works by helping patients learn alternative responses to triggering experiences in a realistic environment. A pilot study is examining the feasibility and effectiveness of ABR in an opioid addiction treatment clinic. Participants included 40 adults with opioid dependence and were randomly divided into two treatment groups. The control group received treatment as usual (daily methadone administration, once weekly individual counseling, and once weekly support group meetings). The experimental group received daily methadone administration, daily check-ins on cravings and drug use, a weekly psycho-educational module, and an individual VR-assisted therapy session once weekly in lieu of regular drug counseling. Results of the pilot study will discuss clinical validation of Avatar based recovery, relevant qualitative feedback, and future directions of research.