When you hear the word “addiction,” the first thing that pops into your head is probably drugs or alcohol. Gambling or sex addictions might also register as types of negative habits. Or perhaps even the digital obsession many have with their devices. But video game addiction? Is there really such a thing?
Is It Really an Addiction?
Most people would agree that video game binges or all-night marathons aren’t beneficial to your health, either physically or mentally. But is there a time limit that should be observed by gamers? Is there a way to know for sure when video game playing becomes excessive…or even addictive?
The World Health Organization recently evaluated the harmful effects of spending too much time playing video games. Based on scientific evidence, the WHO has classified “gaming disorder” as a serious addiction. However, the agency claims that the condition only affects 3% of gamers. Although the American Psychiatric Association hasn’t labeled excessive gaming as a mental health condition, the organization does admit that the disorder warrants further clinical research.
Addiction Begins in the Brain
The brain is the supercomputer that runs everything in your life. It plays a central role in your vulnerability to addiction and your ability to recover and maintain sobriety. Understanding the brain’s role in addiction, prevention, and treatment is the key to helping people break free from their addictions. Until then, they will continue to fuel their addictions with daily habits and actions that pollute the brain and make it even harder for them to break free from those addictions.
Overloaded work schedules, not getting enough sleep, and living with strained relationships all can lower brain function, and make it more difficult to fight addiction. Eating a fast food diet, guzzling sugary sodas, and gobbling unhealthy snacks deprives the brain of proper nutrients, which decreases your ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Isolating yourself from family and friends to hide your addiction also has a negative effect on your brain that can further intensify your addictive behaviors.
The Brain’s Reward System
Your motivation to either commit or quit harmful acts is tied to the biological makeup of your brain and your brain’s reward system. This system is an intricate network of neurotransmitters that are critical to human survival. Your self-control circuit is comprised of: 1. the brain systems that drive you to seek out things that bring you pleasure and, 2. the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which applies the brakes when you’re about to engage in risky behavior.
In the addicted brain, the underactive PFC can create an imbalance in the reward system and cause you to lose control over your behavior. When this happens, you’re more likely to fall victim to your cravings. Having low activity in the PFC often results in impulse control problems and poor internal supervision.
ADHD and Video Game Addiction
Many individuals with ADHD, who can barely spend ten minutes doing mundane tasks such as paying bills or preparing their taxes, can easily lose themselves for hours on end playing video games. The stimulation, novelty, and excitement grabs and maintains their interest. Without these stimuli, they can be apathetic, fatigued, or spacey.
A recent study found that gamers with ADHD symptoms may be at a greater risk for developing video game addiction. Up to 23 percent of people who play video games report symptoms of addictive behavior.
If you know someone who can’t put down the controller, here are some practical strategies that can help them overcome Video Game Brain:
HEALTHY PLEASURE CENTERS
Deep inside the brain, your pleasure centers respond to several neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine. When dopamine is depleted, depression and low motivation are much more likely to occur – it can be harder to find your sense of joy and lift yourself out of a funk. Boost dopamine naturally by engaging in meaningful and pleasurable activities on a regular basis. Do work that you love, get consistent exercise and take time to have fun with your loved ones.
BOOST YOUR PFC
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for helping you be goal-oriented, socially responsible, and productive in every area of your life. Decreased activity in the PFC has been associated with lack of forethought and poor judgment. Exercising self-control is one of the best ways to strengthen your PFC. To develop your PFC, you can practice saying no to the things that aren’t good for you and, over time, you’ll find it easier to do the right thing. Also, supplements, green tea, and Rhodiola can increase blood flow to the PFC which can help you make better decisions.
Addictions are made worse when we literally “wear out” the brain’s pleasure centers from constant exposure to highly stimulating activities, such as drugs, video games, and internet pornography. Take inventory of the adrenaline-producing habits in your life. Eliminate unhealthy ones and take breaks from activities (even good ones) that are becoming compulsive. When fighting an addiction, always keep these two words in mind: “Then what?” Whenever you think about doing or saying something that may have a negative impact on your life, consider the consequences of your behavior. This question can serve as a stop sign to impulses that are about to take you down the wrong path.
Brain dysfunction is the #1 reason why people fall victim to addiction. If a loved one is struggling with any form of addiction, our method of integrative psychiatric support can help. Our Full Evaluation of your biological/psychological/social/spiritual history, cognitive testing, and clinical assessment is designed to address unique needs and offer targeted treatment options.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a video game addiction, call us today at 704-751-7775 or visit us online to schedule a visit.
by Dr Daniel Amen