Is Gaming Addiction Different from Other Addictions?

Christina Loguidice's picture

I have been thinking about addictive behaviors lately. It seems almost everyone is addicted to something, whether coffee, cigarettes, food, alcohol, sex, shopping—you name it, and someone is addicted to it. Videogames are no exception, and as we all know, gaming is often blamed by the popular media for causing violence, deviant behaviors, obesity, and a host of other undesirable effects. A recent study published in Pediatrics by Iowa State University researchers that examined a little over 3000 schoolchildren in Singapore found that “Greater amounts of gaming, lower social competence, and greater impulsivity seemed to act as risk factors for becoming pathological gamers, whereas depression, anxiety, social phobias, and lower school performance seemed to act as outcomes of pathological gaming.” They note that their findings add to the discussion on whether gaming addiction is the same as other addictions.

This is certainly a complex issue. Unlike substance abuse, where we have a fairly good understanding of the chemical effects of these agents on the human body, researchers are just starting to examine the effects of videogames on the brain, both positive (eg, improving cognitive function) and negative (eg, potentially dangerous brain activity during gameplay), and there are many questions that remain to be answered. For example, do different games cause different types/levels of addictions? It would be interesting to know what types of games the schoolchildren who became pathological gamers played, which is something I could not determine from the study’s abstract. However, one videogame genre that is often blamed for causing addiction is the MMORPG. I have never played such games myself, but I know a few people who are or have been addicted to them. In each of these cases, the addiction started at a time when these individuals were vulnerable, so while such games are designed to be addictive to keep people coming back, there was already an underlying predisposition to this addiction. I believe that in these cases, the addiction would have manifested elsewhere had it not been to the MMORPG.

Are videogame addictions as harmful as other addictions? On some levels, I don’t think so. Most importantly, a pathological gamer’s addiction is unlikely to injure or kill another human being. The thought of a pathological gamer behind the wheel certainly does not frighten me, unless, of course, they challenged me to a game of Mario Kart. On the other hand, the addiction can still be incredibly injurious to the individual, leading to lack of employment, disrupted sleep-wake cycles, social awkwardness, isolation, low self-esteem, and a host of other problems, including depression. The Iowa researchers found that this cycle can last for years, which is something I have observed firsthand with someone who is very dear to me.

Of course, every addiction has to be treated on an individual basis and will have its own treatment protocols. That said, I don’t think it is the item of addiction that should be blamed. Videogames are often thrown under the proverbial bus, perhaps because it is easier to point fingers and to make blanket statements than to acknowledge the complexity of the problem. While we can make general observations and identify principles that may apply across the board, pathological gaming, as with any pathological problem, will have to be managed on a case-by-case basis that addresses the underlying problem(s) or vulnerability that both leads to and sustains the addiction.

Comments

Matt Barton
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Great post, Christina. I'm

Great post, Christina. I'm not sure how I come down on this issue. As I talked about in my last segment, we're not a community who lets people off that easily when it comes to "I can't help myself" or "I had no choice." Nonsense. You may not want to turn off a game, but I don't know any of us here who would seriously let somebody get away with the claim that they physically can't tear themselves away from it to go to work, sleep, or anything else that should be more important. I know in my case I rely on "gaming binges" to occupy my mind during times of high anxiety, stress, or depression.

Of course, all those repressed thoughts and such do eventually come back to the surface. I'd much prefer to have it like I did in high school and college, where I had always plenty of friends I could talk to and de-stress, so to speak, or at least get a better perspective on the issues that bother me. Now I'm pretty much isolated in the apartment all day, and work is of course a professional area. Sure I have friends there, but with a colleague it's different since you have to worry about professional standings and such. I probably should just give up and pay a therapist. It seems kinda lame to me to have to do that, but a fella has got to unwind!

In any case, back to gaming addiction, I'd assume someone was mentally ill if he or she told me that the game was more important to them than a job, loved ones, and so on. In that case, I'd hope they could get some counseling or perhaps visit a psychiatrist to try to get the problems worked out. The gaming is just a symptom rather than a cause of the behavior.

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Matt Barton
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Just to add a bit on to this,

Just to add a bit on to this, it also bugs me that people single out gaming as an "addiction" but say nothing or think nothing odd about someone for whom "baseball is my life" or "I'd rather be fishing." I know plenty of people who do nothing all day but watch sports on TV and are at least as "addicted" to that as I am to games. Yet that's considered normal or understandable, "Just a guy" etc. It bugs me.

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Rob Daviau
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Exactly
Matt Barton wrote:

Just to add a bit on to this, it also bugs me that people single out gaming as an "addiction" but say nothing or think nothing odd about someone for whom "baseball is my life" or "I'd rather be fishing." I know plenty of people who do nothing all day but watch sports on TV and are at least as "addicted" to that as I am to games. Yet that's considered normal or understandable, "Just a guy" etc. It bugs me.

Could not agree more Matt. Once again it seems that since it is not something as mainstream or has been around as long as other entertainment options thus less understood by many that it can be labeled as an addiction or something "bad" where as you pointed out some guy who is so into sports, paints his face, maybe even acts like a total A-hole when he normally would not that is OK or normal.

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Chris Kennedy
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Addiction

Though I did a segment on videogame addiction and how it is "good for you" in a previous podcast, I do think that videogames can dominate one's life in an unhealthy way - just like many other things can dominate someone's life in an unhealthy way.

I have avoided MMORPGs like the plague. This is not because they aren't good or possibly great games, but because I fear that I may become addicted to them and let them dominate my free time, compromise my social life, and cause my work to suffer.

Life is quite different now as I am married, and I think that being married gives me a constant reality check on life. Obviously, any future offspring will continue to build upon that reality check, and certain addictions would be more dangerous as there are more people close to me that depend on me.

Let me give you a real life example of someone I knew. When Everquest was released, a coworker of mine established the following pattern -

1: Play Everquest all night long
2: Work 8:00-5:00
3: Crash at home.
4: Repeat cycle by playing Everquest as soon as he woke up.

I remember him telling me about this. My first question was "how long did this go on?" His response was "a full year."

Doing this for a year straight and REALIZING he had done it for a year straight was the reality check. I am not sure if he ever played it again. I do know that he had a girlfriend at the time he told me.

I think that having multiple interests, being able to relate to different people, and creating variety in our lives helps our development, keeps us interesting, and prevents us from getting too addicted to one thing.

However, I think it is also important to note that many addictions come from "crutches" of life. Perhaps you have a videogame (or alcohol, or sports...) addiction, and that addiction stemmed from some sort of stress in your life. It is a lot harder to keep yourself motivated to keep a variety of interests when you are tired from stress.

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Christina Loguidice
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It fills a void...

Exactly, Matt, I do believe that pathological gaming is a symptom rather than a cause of a behavior. In many cases, I think people simply find themselves in situations where they feel isolated, and gaming these days is especially good at helping to fill a void because it affords an opportunity to interact with other people, which may not be so easy to do in real life. There is also a comfort in that anonymity and in being around people who are not likely to judge them. In addition, I think getting achievements in games and accomplishing missions in some cases acts as a substitute to achievements in real life---it sort of provides the same high, but is more short-lived. The problem is when the hobby or distraction becomes the sole focus and a substitute for real relationships and opportunities, as it is at that point that it becomes an addiction and damaging to the individual's quality of life.

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clok1966
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I dont believe in addiction

I dont believe in addiction (hold the boo's from the crowd please) in the way most people do. I do believe stuff has addictive qualities, its been proven. Many drugs have VERY real effects from withdrawel. Here is where me and most everybody else seems to differ. I look at any healthy completely stabel(mentally ) person... err if there are any :) I mean what we consider normal I guess. I dont beleive any of them cant QUIT if they really want to. The problem is simple, it takes some willpower and backbone, and sad to say (myself included) its just to easy to say fook it. We can blame our problem on everything but oursleves.. We eat to much, its emotinal issues, bad self image, it make me feel better, etc.. But ask any single one of those people, is eating ot much healthy? They ALL know it isnt.. that not addiction, thats poor disicion making, and they dont have to deal with it becuase they ahve 100's of excuses why.

I know quiting smokeing is hard, I did it myslef 20 years ago, it quite honeslty was one of the hardest things i can rember doing and I tired to do it a few times. The reason I failed? not bcuase I couldnt go on without a smoke, but becuase it was just alot easier to say fook it and smoke one more. The day I truely said im done, I WAS. I have a bad back and have always (since about 19) been around 20 + lbs overwiegth (to much party and drinking). Excersiseing is hard when you cant stress your back, its not imposissible, its just harder...Heck exercising is hard to start with, so you say fook it. About 5 years ago after many many times thinking i was going to lose weight... I finally said YES I WILL... and I dropped 40 pounds in a summer it was pretty dang hard, but I did it..

My point is, we all make our own choices, those who wont make the hard ones just use excuses why they cant. There are people mentally unable to make some of those choices, they do have issues, and need real help. We live in a world where there is tons of money to be made by letting us believe its not our own fualt, but somebody can "help" us fix it and we can pay um to fix it.. MUCH MUCH easier than to man up to our own problems.

Tell me, before you take your first smoke (NOWDAYS) do you not know its bad? Sure you do, everybody does, even 5 year olds do, why would you smoke one? Any drug you know that doenst have proof its harmfull? NONE... we all know they are bad, plain and simple. Yet millions of us still try um, do um and keep doing um.

Now you look at video games- If you do believe in addiction, I would say its no differnt then any other form. Additciton only has to harm the USER, not others. While I do agree, anyting that doesnt harm others seems pretty different. Doing anything to much (except helping others) is alwasy bad, to much cake, to much sex, to much work, to much sleep, to much excerise.. etc.... to much video games.. something is going ot suffer in some way. Social life, family /freinds etc...

I gotta admit though, meth head or cronic video gamers... one is alot worse then another.

People look at addicting things however they want. Like many said (and very good point) a guy who goes fishing all the time is no differnt then a guy who plays vidoe games all the time. Of course fishing by almost everybody who is older would think different.

I am the cynic, the world is full of people who blame everything but themsleves for the problems they have. I make many, many bad choices everyday, but i sure dont cry about it (to much) and I NEVER blame it on anything but myslef. And the really sad part is we have grown up to believe its not our fualt, there are so many "studies " that "prove" many things ... take 3000 gamers and look at um ten years down the road and see how many are criminals.. do the same for Sports players, Girlscouts, etc... IT dont prove anything to me.. we are all different. Human nature makes it impossible to judge us. 3000 one day and 3000 new ones the next, they wont ever be the same no matter how many studies you do. Mechanical stuff, things without free will, sure you can judge that with studies, but I dont think you can with humans.. Now once again, dont get me wrong, its worth trying to study, but its only guesswork and should be takine as such.

long OPINIONATED post :)

Int eh end, IF you believe in addiction the way its portrayed, yes gameing is ... but much like laws i think there are levels of it.. Meth is far worse and addiction then smoking in my book, as smoking is far worse then gaming.

Mark Vergeer
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Excellent post Christina

I have to deal with patients all day and some of them are addicted in some way. Addiction is a multifactorially caused complex of symptoms. It is oversimplified to blame the drugs, the alcohol or the games only. In a way psychological addictions are different from substance / physical addictions but the results overall can be pretty similar causing self destructive behaviors.

A physiological addiction almost always has a psychological addiction superimposed. The combination is harder to beat.

With Physiological addiction withdrawal causes physical withdrawal symptoms that can be quite dangerous and going cold turkey should never be attempted without medical care. People can get violently ill.

With Psychological addiction withdrawal causes psychological symptoms like irritability, impulsivity, anger, emotional imbalance, aggressive behaviors and 'drug' seeking/reward seeking behavior. The latter can totally overrule normal dicision making processes.

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Mark Vergeer
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Gaming addiction is psychological

Gaming addiction is psychological addiction and not all are susceptible to it. Like I said it is a multifactorially determined outcome. You have psychiatric/psychological traits that can make a person more prone to addictive behaviors than others.

Psychological addiction is a multifactorial vicious cycle where various people with addiction hopped on board at a different spot. So simply blaming videogames is silly. As is simply blaming parents or schools.

Factors that do play a role (mind you everybody is talking about causality whereas most of the times only a correlation was discovered) can be numerous.

An example
- anxiety problems
- depressive problems
- personality disorders
Gaming can be an escape then but it can also be some of automedication. As the structured gameworld can put to rest anxieties and real life worries. But also vice versa playing games can conincide with the onset of anxiety in some who are prone to it.

The instant gratification, demanding attitude of quite a few (growing number of?) people can make them more prone to psychological addiction (and turns them into antisocial arseholes). This attitude can arise when kids grow up without good parenting but a spoiled kid is not automatically an addicted Gamer.

Stress (all kinds) can cause people to seek distraction and rewarding behaviors and it all depends on their coping skills and decision making skills what they choose. Personality, genes, economic circumstances, education, upbringing, socio-economic status/future, psychological and psychiatric conditions etc all play a role in acquiring addictions.

Simply blaming one thing or claiming causality is unwise at this point.

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Mark Vergeer
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Often a gaming addiction is...

Often a gaming addiction is the most socially accepted coping style a person can come up with and it can be going on for quite some time before it is discovered.

"lately Little Jimmy has been such a good boy! Always in his bedroom instead of making a nuisance out of himself....lovely and quiet. He finally settled in, now let's watch some more Jeapordy... Jimmy is such a good boy"

Now Jimmy clean up that mess... Whoops he's addicted to WoW! Help!"

Parents scream
"the creators of videogames should be jailed!"

Others scream:
"those parents should have spent more time parenting little Jimmy"

Then Jimmy proceeds to rob a liquor store...

It is simplistic to solely blame the videogame or jimmy's parents for this. Or just those two factors for that matter! But again a multifactorial result it is a mistake to blame a single thing but you need to examine all factors to come up with a working solution.

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Mark Vergeer
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Reward center...

The reward center of the brain is the key factor in addiction. When compared to non-addicted folk, in people with addiction the reward center is more active that is people get a higher sense of reward even from regular stimuli. But the effect wears off more quickly too.

In some non-addicted family members of addicted people this addicted reward-center response can be observed too. This leads some to conclude these people may be at risk of addiction too. But is it the cause or is it a symptom of addiction? Causality oversimplifies it as what makes the family members with the same reward-center response not addicted? Haven't they simply not get affiches yet? Or are there other factors at play? You can bet on the latter!

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