By JACQUELINE PRIMO | Reporter
When most people hear the word “addiction,” they typically think of addiction to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, gambling or even caffeine. What most people don’t think of are video games.
We have all been there—glued to the screen, controller in hand as we collect those last few coins, beat the boss and move on to the next level. Video games can be a lot of fun, a way to relieve stress, and even teach us a thing or two or get us to break a sweat, as some games involve motion capture and require the player to dance or swing an invisible baseball bat.
Yet video game addiction is a very real problem, according to Damon Raskin, M.D., who specializes in the treatment of addiction and substance abuse while practicing internal medicine in Pacific Palisades.
More now than ever, video game addiction is affecting today’s children and adolescents, especially boys, Raskin told the Palisadian-Post in an interview in his Palisades office.
Raskin said video game addiction in children can manifest when the child strongly prefers playing video games over other things, to such a degree that he slacks off in school, loses interest in hanging out with friends and stops participating in other healthy activities like sports, dance or music—much in the same way an alcoholic begins to withdraw from other activities in favor of drinking.
“Instead, they’re spending all their time playing video games,” Raskin told the Post.
The child may also exhibit changes in appearance and even have poor personal hygiene or stop taking showers.
These behaviors can indicate to parents that their child has video game addiction, Raskin said, a suspicion that may be further validated when the child exhibits “withdrawal symptoms” when the parents attempt to intervene.
“If parents set time limits” on how long their child can play video games, they “will see irritability and withdrawal symptoms you would see with drug or alcohol withdrawal,” Raskin said.
Children may grow “angry” or “visibly upset if they’re not able to get to their games” and may even lie to their parents about how long they have been playing, he elaborated.
Raskin said some people may have a genetic predisposition for addiction. The added presence of an “environmental trigger”—abuse, neglect, an experience of loss or rejection—could cause them to seek out a vice or a “happy place they can go.”
Video game addiction is no different in this way, Raskin said, noting that addiction is often associated with depression, anxiety or other psychiatric disorders.
“One of the biggest things we see happening is that kids who are feeling like they’re losers in school or in life can then have this virtual world where they feel like they’re winners,” Raskin told the Post.
Since many of today’s video games are immersive, socially interactive or virtual-reality games that take place in an entire virtual world where players can design their characters and form friendships with other players in the game—something “Pac-Man” can’t hold a candle to—it’s not hard to see how a child who feels anxious, stressed or lonely might turn to video games to fill those needs.
“They lose themselves [in the video game] because they’re getting positive reinforcement, they can conquer the world, kill people, people look up to them, they can solve problems,” Raskin said.
“People’s brains don’t finish forming until around the age of 26, and the last part of the brain to form is judgment,” Raskin added. “That’s why adolescents are such risk-takers with drugs and sexual promiscuity, which can translate into making poor decisions and deciding to live in this video game world.”
What should parents do if they fear their child may be addicted to video games?
According to Raskin, they should completely cut off video games and find something else for their child to participate in, whether it’s exercise, sports or studying.
“Ninety-nine percent of alcoholics, if you tell them they can have one or two drinks, they’ll multiply that by five. It’s the same thing [with video game addiction],” Raskin said, stressing that cutting off video games “cold turkey” is the only way to go. “If your kid is really suffering from anxiety or depression or an underlying psychological disorder, then getting them professional help is important.”
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