Video games affect the way our brains function. People ask me all the time how video gaming addiction is different than other addictions like alcohol or marijuana.
Effects of biological substances on the brain
Biological substances like alcohol and marijuana have compounds that travel to specific receptors in the brain and activate or suppress those receptors. Alcohol will slow you down, so it can help with anxiety or stress. Adderall or cocaine will excite the neurons in your brain and cause you to be very active. So, biologi-cal substances are specific, targeted and have large ripple effects in your brain and behavior.
There are significant differences from biological substances and video gaming.
Video games affect the brain in much more complicated ways. They primarily affect a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is our pleasure chemical. When we do something fun or enjoyable, we release dopa-mine. Video games are designed to be fun, so when we play, we release dopamine.
Other fun activities that are also high adrenaline and high dopamine are things like white water rafting or skydiving. The key is that these activities tend to be physically taxing and are therefore limited in their length. Another example of a fun activity would be a baseball game which has highs and lows. In fact, the low or slow period is what makes the highs — and the dopamine release — felt more vividly.
But video games can be played for hours on end.
Homeostasis and Tolerance
Homeostasis is our body’s ability to maintain balance. For example, take body temperature. We maintain an internal temperature of 98.6 whether its 100 degrees, 50 degrees or 20 degrees outside.
Our body strives to maintain equilibrium, or homeostasis. A coffee habit, for example, builds a tolerance to caffeine, so you will absolutely feel it when you skip the coffee. Same thing with alcohol, you have lightwei-ghts who will feel it with 2 drinks and heavy drinkers who need 6 or more drinks to feel anything.
So, when you are releasing dopamine in such extreme amounts for such a long time, you build up a tolerance to video games.
Your capability of having fun goes down.
The tolerance to dopamine is the most challenging part of taking on video gaming addiction. When your body develops such a high tolerance from gaming so much, sometimes gamely aren’t even having fun gaming anymore. They need to play for longer, or in more extreme ways, to gel the same dopamine feeling.
The damage to your dopamine circuit also means that things you used to find fun – say reading, hanging out with your family, watching movies – are no longer fun. Even things like going for a walk can seem downright tedious. To kick video gaming addiction, you have to normalize your dopamine circuit. This is crucial, because you have to find a way to have fun again.
It takes about a month to normalize.
Brains are amazingly ‘plastic’ which means they are capable of change. The first month is the hardest. This is true for other addictive substances as well – coffee, marijuana. So, we have to do a few things in the first month:
- Cut gaming to one to two evenings a week, at a max of 2 hours.
- Rediscover ‘fun’ in other ways.
- Have patience with moodiness and irritability.
- Try to gel some sleep.
Parents, it’s going to be ok.
Your hunches are right.
- There is something addictive going on.
- it ls more than psychological.
- Gaming for hours on end every night is unhealthy regardless of grades or girlfriends or sports.
- It can have longterm effects.
- can effectively ruin someone’s life.
- There is a way to treat this.
- You do have a crucial role to play.
If you’re ready to take on video gaming addiction as a partner in your child’s recovery, the Healthy Gamer Parent Course might be right for you.