Are video games as addictive as drugs?

I know today that modern gaming has become so advanced that it almost looks real with the advances in technology. Although video game addiction has not been proven as an actual illness the signs and symptoms of a person who is allegedly addicted to video games have many correlations with the symptoms of someone addicted to drugs.

What exactly is addiction? According to a medical dictionary, addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance. Addiction is a neurological disorder that affects the dopamine intake and uptake within the brain. When someone engages in a pleasurable acts, the brain then activates dopamine producing neurons which travel from the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which is located mid brain and is rich in dopamine and serotonin neurons. Dopamine then travels to the synaptic space, the space between neurons. Then dopamine molecules travel to the dopamine receptors on the receiving neuron. After then dopamine travels back through the synaptic space through a protein named dopamine transporter and back to the transmitting neuron.

In the case of a person addicted to drugs, the drug indirectly triggers a dopamine release in the VTA that is much more powerful and releases more molecules then it would naturally. Addictive drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or MDMA blocks the dopamine transporter so when dopamine travels back through the synaptic space the transmitting neuron can not retain the dopamine molecules that was releases from the VTA.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information took 19 healthy males, ages 18-23. All of which were pre-screened, had medical examinations, and underwent MRI scans in case anything happened to them. They were asked to play an online computer game for 60 minutes a day for 10 days for a total of 600 minutes. Six of the men played the game for over 900 minutes. The results from the MRI scan show that of the six men who played the game for 900 minutes or more, all of them had increased brain activity significantly in six clusters of the brain compared to the general population. Of those six clusters, three of them are directly related to craving or desire. These areas of the brain are also active in a person who addicted to drugs. This is just a correlation though and doesn’t answer if the brain is just reacting to the computer game or if the game actually changes the brain to spark addiction.

Some of the side effects also correlate with that of a someone addicted to drugs such as migraines, disturb sleeping patterns, restlessness, eating irregularities, and fatigue. Although that may not seem like many the graph below shows a group that played violent video games extensively for two weeks and another group who didn’t play any video games. You can see that there is little to no brain activity going on while trying to control behavior compared to those that played no video games. I think this could be a possible correlation with drug addiction when there is a block in the dopamine transporter and the brain is flooded with dopamine with no way to uptake the dopamine molecules back through the neuron to the VTA that it was transmitted from.


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2 thoughts on “Are video games as addictive as drugs?

  1. Kristen Lauren Mckenzie

    I enjoyed this blog because it really made me thing. You have a lot of facts from credible sources and I see were you make the correlation but at the same time video games are not drugs. The most that could happen is procrastination or distraction from the real world.Other experiments could have been tested to make the results more understanding. I see addiction as a problem and its not everyday you here about a kid that got addicted to a video game and suffered tremendously. But this is a very opinionated blog and this is another reason why I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Zachary Michael Barone

    It seems that the experiment with the men playing computer games provides stronger evidence than you presented. Although there was no control group that did not play any computer games, 13 of the men played 600 minutes and 6 of them played 900 minutes. The 6 men produced increased brain activity in 3 parts of the brain that are related to addiction and also seen in drug addicts. This seems like fairly conclusive evidence that one can become addicted to video games, although I understand that there is no certainty in this conclusion. I think better experiments could be designed by creating a control group that plays no video games, increasing the sample size, and measuring dopamine levels.

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