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05-27 Teen gaming addiction: When playing video games becomes pathological

Teen gaming addiction: When playing video games becomes pathological

Video games have been a phenomenon since the 1970s and 1980s, when arcades and home gaming consoles, such as Pac-Man, were introduced to the general public. Since then, video gaming has become an even more popular form of entertainment and a part of modern culture in most parts of the world. As of 2015, eight generations of video game consoles exist, with the latest generation including Nintendo’s Wii U.

The gaming boom

Most adults these days grew up playing Nintendo and other gaming devices. With the Internet phenomenon and smartphones, gaming has become an even bigger industry. A gamer can play a game on the Internet any hour of the day in real time with a fellow gamer who lives thousands of miles away, thanks to advanced technology. Internet gambling, such as online poker, has also become a hit, turning more gamblers into addicts.

According to a Federal Trade Commission audit, 67 percent of U.S. households play video games and the average age of a gamer is 34 years old. In 2010 the average gamer spent eight hours a week playing video games and the gaming industry made 10.5 billion dollars that year.

A new addiction

Earlier this year, a 32-year old male gamer was found dead at a Taiwanese Internet cafe following a nonstop three-day gaming session. This followed the death of another male gamer who died in Taipei following a five-day gaming binge. While these cases are extremely rare, it does beg the question of why gaming can lead to such excessive behavior. Gaming has been such a worldwide phenomenon that is also an addiction. For the first time, the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-5) included internet gaming disorder (IGD) as a psychological condition.

Gaming addiction can be harmful to the social development of a child. Children and adolescents who become addicted to video games spend so much time living in a fantasy world that they do not learn how to socialize in real life. They forget how to have real human interaction, such as learning to talk to the opposite sex. This type of behavior can lead to personality disorders down the road.

Video game addicts become isolated from society, drop out of their social networks and dump their other hobbies. Massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) can be especially addictive because there’s no ending. Unlike standard games like Super Mario Brothers, in which you win when you save the princess, you can’t rescue the princess in an MMORPG; the game can go on forever, causing people to become isolated from their daily lives.

Gaming rewards can be physiological (such as feeling high or getting a buzz while playing or beating your personal high score), psychological (such as feeling you have complete control in a specific situation or knowing that your strategic play helped you win), social (such as being congratulated by fellow gamers when doing something well in the game) and, in some cases, financial (such as winning a gaming tournament). As with many addictive disorders and substances, the chemical theory behind the addiction of gaming is the release of dopamine in the brain, which is more commonly known as the pleasure hormone.

“With more than 10 million registered players all over the world, Blizzard Entertainment’s ‘World of Warcraft’ (WOW) is often called ‘World of Warcrack’ in reference to its addictiveness,” according to a video game addiction website.

Warning signs

Look out for these warning signs that you or your loved one might need help:

  • You feel really happy when you’re online or when you’re playing games, but as soon as you have to stop, you get angry or upset.
  • You think about going online or playing when you are supposed to be focusing on other things, like doing schoolwork or having dinner with your family.
  • You spend more time with your keyboard or controller than physically hanging out with your friends.
  • Your friends or parents ask what you spend all your time doing and you lie about it or laugh it off, but inside you know they might have a point.

If you notice any of these warning signs, Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego can help. A treatment center specifically for teens, Sovereign specializes in treating substance abuse and behavioral addictions and compulsions, such as adolescent and teen gaming addiction. If you would like further information on Sovereign’s treatment programs, please call 866-615-7266 to speak with a member of our team who will gladly assist you.

Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer

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