Susannah Garrett, BA
Becca Schwilling, BA
Treatment Coordination and Advocacy has been receiving calls from families and treatment professionals looking for treatment centers that address recovery for teens and young adults with video gaming addiction. Unfortunately, we have found that the resources available for this issue are quite limited but we wanted to draw attention to this ever increasing problem. We hope you find the following questions thought provoking and the information helpful.
Children are strongly influenced by the ever increasing fascination with and demand for technology in our culture today. The computer has become part of our psychosocial infrastructure. These days, it seems taking a teenager’s cell phone or Xbox away is a more effective punishment than is being grounded. Many schools require that students use computers for their homework assignments and, indeed, many children (if not most) have their own personal laptop computers.
As any parent who has witnessed their child “zone out” while playing video games knows, there is something very compelling about playing a fast-paced game that is based on rewards for swift reaction time, ability to multi-task, and being on the winning “team.” It all revolves around competition, who wins, who dies, and who comes in first, whether this is found in a self-competition format or is offered as a team approach. Games are designed to fully capture the child’s attention, causing them to continually strive to get to the next level, to locate the traps and the treasures, and ultimately, to beat the game by mastering the game tactics. Once the game has been mastered, children may become restless, moody, or listless, further disengaged in normal routines, thinking mostly of how they will acquire the next new game, when the cycle begins anew.
What parent hasn’t found his or herself frustrated and confused in the face of his or her teenager’s compulsive gaming behavior that leaves important facets of life and its responsibilities unattended to without an argument? Behaviors such as isolating, loss of interest in school and friends, telling lies, decreased attention to personal hygiene, and disruptions in normal sleep patterns are common occurrences in many households today due to video gaming, which so easily and rapidly becomes obsessive. If this sounds familiar to mental health practitioners, perhaps it is because these are behaviors associated with addictive patterning, such as those found in both substance and process addictions.
Many professionals would argue that the reliance on technology our culture has developed is influential in predisposing children to online, and gaming addiction patterns. This issue raises questions about appropriate psychosocial development, the biochemical responses in the body to gaming and the similarities of these responses to the patterns of chemical dependency, as well as the possibility that playing violent games may be associated with an increase of or apathy to violent behaviors. These are only a few of the many questions we might be asking ourselves as mental health professionals.
What will be the end result of generations socialized in a world of online chatting, texting, gaming, and e-mail, wherein children do not gain the experience that face-to-face interaction provides? In ways, this phenomenon is even more frightening in its potential consequences than is chemical dependency because, unlike drug use, society as a whole approves the use of these technologies. Children are receiving mixed messages regarding technology from the world around them. As parents and other adults model excessive use of and dependence on computer technology and the media promotes the acquisition of ever faster and more powerful technologies to tempt all consumers, children are also told it is not appropriate to get “lost” in their solitary computer worlds and they need to interact more with others.
Is there a correlation between the emotional high or adrenaline rush and the documented increase in the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is thought to regulate the experience of pleasure? Can this increase in the dopamine levels of “gamers” produce dangerous cycling patterns that may lead to addiction, similar to that in the development of drug addiction? Is it possible that excessive gaming may cause fundamental and even permanent changes in the dopamine system, with all the attendant symptomology of decreased dopamine sensitivity found in drug addictions?
What about research that indicates a possible correlation between playing violent games and an increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviors? While some researchers embrace this hypothesis, others suggest that the opposite may be true and that venting aggression in a safe, virtual-reality gaming environment leads to a decrease in externalized aggressive behaviors.
Where do accountability, supervision, and social consequences have a position in a virtual society? What, as a society, should be an appropriate response to its members who repeatedly seek to “numb” by escaping to such compelling virtual realities?
As mental health professionals, we have a responsibility to ask these questions of ourselves and our colleagues, to encourage research in these areas, and to work on developing appropriate clinical treatments for children and adolescents who find their lives out of control due to dependency on video gaming and other excessive Internet use.
While the controversy continues over whether or not addiction to computer games and the Internet can be classified as a clinical disorder, families are coming forward to seek help with dysfunctional behavior patterns in these areas. At the time of publishing this e-newsletter, very few treatment resources have been located, if you have a client who needs help in this area, don’t hesitate to call us, Treatment Coordination and Advocacy will do it’s best to help you find the resources needed to help.
Below are a few resources you might find helpful for yourself, your clients and their families:
Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them
written by Dr. David N. Greenfield, Connecticut
Plugged In: A Clinicians’ and Families’ Guide to Online video Game Addiction, by Terry Waite