Internet & Gaming Addiction: New Drug of Choice?

Internet & Gaming Addiction: New Drug of Choice?

I think back to the first time I held the original Nintendo controller in my hands.  It was 1987, I was just 7 years old when Nintendo introduced their first console on the market.  I couldn’t have been more excited.  I had played a little Atari before this, and while I loved the Star Wars game on that platform, it was nothing compared to Super Mario Brothers and their quest to save Princess Peach in all of its 16 bit glory!  I’m sure there are other thirty somethings out there who can identify.  I wanted to start this blog off with warm happy feelings in regard to gaming because it will likely not end that way.  Those same thirty somethings that remember gaming so fondly are the same people who are wondering why they can’t get their kids away from the console/internet.  The games of today are not the same, nor are the issues and difficulties faced by the most recent generation when it comes to gaming and Internet use.  I am hoping to shed some light on this problem, as well as offer support.

The first real question that I get is “is gaming/internet addiction a real thing?”  My answer is an emphatic yes!  Companies that create games and gaming platforms depend on it.  The whole point behind producing a game today is to hook the player of the game so they become dependent on it and continue to play/purchase/rate/review/watch the game, thus effectively funding and advertising the game for the company.  The latest edition of the DSM (DSM-V) mentions gaming/internet addiction and will likely be including it in future revisions as more studies take place to find how widespread and destructive this type of addiction is.  The most compelling evidence comes from studies that show how today’s games are targeting pleasure centers in the brain, much like addictions to substances, in order to reward the gamer and thus perpetuate the pattern of gaming that can be so destructive.

So what does a gaming addiction look like?  The answer is simple.  In many ways it looks just like an addiction to a substance.  Here are some of the warning signs that you or someone you love may have an issue.  With any addiction one indicator is a lack of control over use.  When an individual is addicted to gaming they may find themselves gaming for long periods of time, even through the night, when there intention may have been 20 – 30 minutes.  Another warning sign is preoccupation with gaming or a certain game.  We have found that individuals addicted to gaming often talk about and focus on their gaming when they are not physically playing the game.  They may dominate conversations, read books about their games, watch Utube videos of other people playing their game of choice, etc.  Defensiveness is another telltale sign.  You may find yourself confronting the individual and they become angry and defensive over use.  Often times these individuals will make excuses for excessive use, trying to justify their behavior, or make it seem like they have to have access to the game/internet in order to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Guilt is often present as well.  Often times gamers who are addicted feel guilty about use and try to hide or cover up the amount of time spent on gaming.  This often impacts many other areas of their lives such as social interaction, work, school performance, as well as family issues.  We often find that these individuals end up spending a great deal of money on gaming or computer related devices to enhance the experience.  As with other addictions, we find that these individuals need more and more to achieve the same level of excitement as their body/mind adapt to the stimuli provided by the game.

It is my intention as a therapist to help.  I will continue to shed light on this topic in the coming months as we expand our services in regard to working with individuals and families affected by gaming and internet addiction.  There is a wealth of information out there and I will continue to inform and offer support to adolescents and young adults in our community.  If you feel like you have a problem or know someone who does, we can help in the form of individual therapy, family therapy, or even an outpatient program to help get you or your loved one back on the right track.