The Affliction of Addiction

TRUE OR FALSE:  A person who is preoccupied with drinking alcohol, downplays or denies the overuse of alcohol, lies about it, demonstrates clear lack of control, consistently suffers negative impact due to drinking, uses alcohol to avoid dealing with problems or feelings, and gets angry when it is suggested that alcohol is a problem, suffers from alcohol addiction.

If you answered false, I suggest you immediately start over at the top because you may have misunderstood the question.  If that is not the case, quickly find your nearest AA meeting.

Addiction, as opposed to a bad habit, has been proven to have a physiological basis.  This is thought to be the reason many people with a bad habit can quit the harmful behavior without much help while those with addiction cannot.  Physiologically, addiction has been shown to be a decreased response to “normal” reward.  Dopamine, a chemical messenger the body synthesizes, has been implicated in this.  The reward system in the brain of a person prone to addiction is low in Dopamine.  This causes the person to need more of something to feel a “normal” reward response. Additionally, there is decreased ability to feel joy, and have fun in general.  Genetics play a factor in this.  Some people are born to code for less Dopamine in the reward circuitry of the brain.  While it widely agreed that people can be addicted to chemical substances, sex, gambling and food, I am certain that people can be addicted to other things as well.

According to the Wikipedia page “Video Game Addiction”, in 1981, British Labour Party MP George Foulkes attempted to ban the game Space Invaders for its “addictive properties” and potential to cause “deviancy”.  This was the first video game to attract “political controversy”. Yes, Wikipedia is not the most reliable or credible source, but that is a cool story any way.

The 1990’s is the decade that multiple reports surfaced regarding the concern for video game addiction. While video games have not been proven to cause physiological addiction, I firmly believe that they do.  The following table addresses this point:

Factors that may trigger addiction Alcohol or drugs Video games
Works fast to feel better, including for anxiety or depression (the effect   is short lived, so more is needed).     yes      yes
Works as an escape.     yes      yes
Potent and rapid feeling of reward or euphoria that quickly fades   when the stimulus is withdrawn.     yes      yes
“Easy” social aspect.     yes      yes
Feel much worse when not using.     yes      yes
Increases available Dopamine and possible natural opiates.     probably      maybe
Having a different persona and living in a “fantasy world”. You could argue yes.      yes
Earn “Rewards” such as a new virtual weapon or level to explore.     no      yes
The challenge to achieve a high score.     no      yes


You can see why greater and greater numbers of kids seem to suffer life impairments due to video game overuse.  Look at the factors that may trigger addiction.  Video games have more properties that can cause addiction than chemical substances.  Teens are more prone to get addicted to drugs or alcohol than adults, probably because they are more prone to addictions in general.  As video games are ubiquitous and legally available to teens it is reasonable to conclude that video game addiction is not only possible but likely more common than other addictions in teens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics contends that greater than 2 hours of video game play (all media and screen time included) per day puts kids at risk for physical, cognitive/academic, behavior and social problems.  I believe that children not monitored and limited in screen use face the greatest risk to develop addiction.  Compounding the problem, many of those suffering from addiction also have guilt because they can’t stop and have internal conflict about knowing they need to but not wanting to stop.  The guilt and conflict create deep internal suffering that in children and adolescents often manifest as outward anger towards others, especially care-givers.  It can fill the home with toxic negative energy and stress.

In May of 2005, NBC News reported that one in eight gamers develops patterns similar to other types of addiction and abuse.  This is scary.   Addictions need to be addressed quickly.  The sooner they are identified and the younger the person is when action is taken the better.

In taking action, a significant problem parents may face is codependency.  An example of this would be in a home where a child is demonstrating characteristics of addiction toward video games.  The child “only feels good” if playing.  Parents want the child to feel good and feel bad if the child is feeling bad so they allow the behavior to continue.  In addition, there may be a pattern of letting the child play to avoid conflict.  Codependency strengthens the tendency toward addiction.  The child never gets the support needed to learn a variety of healthier coping skills. Additionally, the child does not get help for the problem driving the “need” to play video games.

When there is a video game or screen-time problem, the solution starts with recognition and accessing professional help.  Ultimately, however, it is at home with what the parents and kids are doing to address it.  It is not in the scope of this article to discuss specific treatments or strategies. The website is packed with more specifics about all of this, and the latest research on it.

We want our children to be healthy, happy, socially adept and resilient.  Addiction causes the opposite of all of these things.  This is no game.  Let’s do all we can to protect the bodies and minds of our offspring.  If anything, do it because we will need them to take care of us when we are older.

3 thoughts on “The Affliction of Addiction

  1. Erin Toll Glover says:

    When I think of how many hours my son spent playing video games as a teenager and pre-teen because we simply could not deal with his hostility and other problems or did not know how to do it, and now I look at how addicted he is to pot at 23, after reading your article I can’t help but wonder about the correlation.

    It’s interesting though. My other two sons never developed a video game addiction. My 25 year old doesn’t have addictions that I know of. My ten year old is too busy with sports and unlike with the first two, we strictly limit gaming. I’m including Minecraft even though that’s a computer game because I think the idea is the same.

    Thanks for the article.

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