Is Gaming the New Digital Drug?

Everyone loves a good baby photo, but APA convention speaker Andrew Doan, MD, PhD, of the Uniformed Services University School of the Health Sciences, showed his audience a photo of his young son that Doan finds difficult to look at. The picture upsets him because Doan doesn’t remember much of his son at that age — although he does have vivid memories of his favorite video game at the time.

177253792Doan was addicted to video games for 10 years, playing anywhere from 50 to 100 hours per week while also attending The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Doan recovered – though he came close to losing his wife and family – and is now conducting research on how gaming re-programs the brain. He is also working to educate the public about gaming addiction as Head of Addictions and Resilience Research for the U.S. Navy.

Some studies, he pointed out, estimate that one in 11 U.S. children and teenagers are addicted to video games, he said.

At the APA session, Doan provided an overview of research that indicates that such games have a strong impact on us psychologically and physiologically, including that they overdrive the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal system and deplete cortisol supplies.

“How does your body burn [that adrenalin], if you only move your two thumbs?” he asked.

Doan encouraged attendees to pay more attention to gaming addiction and noted that all types of addiction research can inform gaming addiction and other process addictions, such as addiction to pornography.

Fellow speaker Hilarie Cash, PhD, has also seen the addiction firsthand, and shared her treatment approach for people with gaming addiction at the session. Her reSTART Internet Addiction Program in Washington state helps people who need treatment for Internet, video gaming and technology overuse, including day-trading addiction. The program helps people – mostly young men — develop better sleep patterns, eat more healthfully, exercise and shed addictions that accompanied their gaming, such as marijuana and Adderall. Cash and her colleagues also emphasize such practical skills as how to maintain a clean home and nurture social relationships.

“Almost universally, [our clients] lack good strong social skills, so we really emphasize that,” Cash says.

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