It seems like we toss around the term “addiction” rather easily. Chocolate, shoes, yoga, puggles, Pinterest; we can’t just like something a lot, we have to be “addicted” to it. But what actually constitutes a real addiction?
Actually, there are two types of addictions, substance addictions and behavioral addictions. With a behavioral addiction, a person will obsessively think about, and compulsively engage in an activity, even though there are harmful consequences. If your son spends all his waking hours counting down the minutes until he can play Call of Duty, you may have a problem. If he has stopped studying, hanging out with friends, or sleeping to get in more playing time, you definitely have a problem.
, I recently sat down with Dr. David Greenfield, one of the leading authorities on Internet and cyber psychology, including its use and abuse, and author of “Virtual Addiction,” to discuss video game addiction.
Sue: Let’s start with the obvious; can playing video games be addictive?
Dr. Dave: The unpredictability and novelty of the internet medium itself is addictive. Video games work on the principal of operant conditioning. When playing the game, the reward center of the brain is stimulated releasing dopamine, a powerful “feel good” chemical in the brain. In addition, the player doesn’t know when the reward is coming, making it all the more addictive. He or she will continuously play, looking for that “hit” of dopamine.
Sue: It seems boys are more attracted to video games than girls. Why is this?
Dr. Dave: Boys are more likely to become addicted to video games because they are hardwired for competition. It is easier and less stressful to have virtual social interactions, and it gives them the opportunity to be “King of the Hill” in the virtual world, which is something they might not get in the real world.
Sue: One way to get a kid to stop playing is to just throw the Xbox away. Is that what you would tell parents to do?
Dr. Dave: Getting rid of the gaming device, while it seems like a good idea, isn’t the best way to handle a video game addiction. In extreme cases a child can get violent when it is taken away due to the withdrawal component. You want to break the cycle without causing a rift in the family.
Sue: What should parents do to break that cycle?
Dr. Dave: Before a child can be weaned off the virtual world, it is imperative to strengthen real world experiences. There are other ways to increase dopamine levels, such as sports, academic accomplishments and trying out for plays. Having alternative activities also has the benefit of eating up time which leaves less time for gaming. Of course, parents should limit and monitor use of video games, texting and social networking. Just being more involved in your child’s life will help your child kick the habit.