Internet/Gaming Addiction, Does it affect my teen’s brain?

So let’s say, hypothetically of course, your teen won’t leave Internet and Gaming AddictionMinecraft for a whole weekend.  I mean it’s almost 48 hours straight with bathroom breaks only.  If they were hooked up to IV’s and a catheter, they wouldn’t leave at all!  You might find yourself asking how can one person spend so many hours on one activity?  And than it jumps to concern, what effect is this having?  What about their brain, I mean maybe it doesn’t do anything at all.  Or maybe it does?

Overall, science is still figuring out the long-term effects of playing massive amounts of video games.  Internet/Gaming addiction is not officially listed as a disorder, but evidence is mounting.  It seems to meet the eye test though, if you’ve ever had to pull your teen away from Halo 5, a complete meltdown happens!  We do know this, addictions change the brain and Internet/Gaming is rapidly moving into that arena.

We’ll go through a quick summary of addiction brain change.  Addictions affect the “pleasure pathways” or “reward center” of the brain. This part of the brain is full of dopamine, a hormone, which gets released every time we feel pleasure or accomplishment.  Like when we finish a house project on our list, you know clearing the back bank full of six-foot weeds, we feel a sense of success.  At this point, dopamine is released at a normal amount and the brain feels “happy”.  We know addictions release massive amounts of dopamine, which changes the tolerance level of the brain.  So, to get back to normal levels of dopamine, withdrawal is created because the brain thinks its missing dopamine, when in reality its not.

The danger comes when you couple the addiction brain change with “the pull” of video games.  Remember that first question, how does one person spend so many hours on one activity, well here’s why.  Maybe you’ve been playing that one level of Candy Crush that you just can’t beat, but you keep coming back. Why don’t you give up and move on?  Its cause we keep telling ourselves, next time!  Imagine a slot machine, there’s a huge attraction to the fact that I can maybe, even though the odds are completely against me, win the big money on the next pull!  Video games have this same reinforcement reward.  It’s going to be the next time that I clear all those blocks of candy on level 139!  So let’s rehash. Your teen is playing League of Legends, which has been professionally designed with “the pull”.  Combine that with the addiction and there is strong possibility your teen’s brain has changed!

So if there’s change, but where in the brain?  Well, I’m glad you asked!  The prefrontal cortex, located right there in the forehead, is the most likely place for brain change because that’s what the dopamine floods.  The prefrontal is in charge of judgment, decision-making, and impulse control.  That’s right, all the things you might need to tell yourself to stop during the 48-hour marathon!  Add this effect into the mix of possible brain change, and I believe we’ve come up with a pretty dangerous combination.

If you find yourself concerned about this information, there are options.  First, I would talk to your teen about these possible effects.  Opening a line of communication can be very helpful for current and future conversations.  If you or your teen says Internet/Gaming addiction might be a problem, its important to seek support.

Jonathan Steele, MA

(858) 634-0179 or jonathan.steele1630@gmail.com

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