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Compulsive video gaming increases stress and anxiety

November 2, 2016 0 Comments


People today play video games of all types. Video games have been a source of fun and frustration for many and can even be used as tools for educational and cognitive growth.

With all the good that can come from video games, though, this entertainment medium has also caused great controversy. Critics have accused video games of promoting violence, creating anger problems and causing a detachment from reality in their players.

The problem is that compulsive gaming, much like the abuse or overuse of any drug, can lead to brain changes over time.

Where the real problem lies

Gaming addiction is not, in fact, fun and games, but an actual issue that is defined as the excessive or compulsive use of games that can interfere with someone’s daily life. This addiction causes isolation and can lead to serious problems later on in life.

Please take note of the word “compulsive.” This means something that creates an irresistible urge in a person. For example, a gaming addiction creates an irresistible urge to game rather than do anything else.

A child who prefers to play video games over homework does not necessarily have a compulsion, although it is best to still encourage him to get his work done before he picks up a controller. The issue arises when children cannot control themselves. When the desire to game becomes a compulsion, it takes over a child’s time for food, school, homework, outdoor time and more. What is worse, it can change a child’s mood because compulsive gaming can literally change a person’s brain.

How compulsive gaming addiction changes the brain

A recent study that was published in March 2016 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that excessive internet gaming can, over time, cause a decrease in epinephrine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. This means that adolescents who are addicted to gaming are actually lowering their stress regulation and increasing their anxiety levels. What’s worse, these brain changes can lead to other physiological changes like the development of depression or anxiety.

Internet gaming addiction has been linked to disruptions in the internal systems that help regulate stress-induced actions. This is known as the sympathetic adrenergic system, which is responsible for releasing catecholamines like dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, all of which help with stress regulation.

The study took a look at catecholamine and anxiety levels in Korean male adolescents who were struggling with internet gaming addiction. Led by Nahyun Kim, this study took blood samples from 230 male high school students and looked at their levels of dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. The students were also asked to fill out questionnaires to assess their levels of anxiety and internet gaming addiction.

What the study found was less than good for adolescents who can’t step away from their PC. It was discovered that those students who were addicted to gaming had significantly lower epinephrine and norepinephrine levels and significantly higher anxiety levels in comparison to those students who were not addicted to gaming. However there was no relationship between the catecholamine and anxiety levels.

What this means is that adolescents who game excessively over time can cause an increase in their anxiety levels while lowering the levels of stress-regulating hormones. It isn’t hard to see that these combined changes can present a problem, especially for teens.

Moving forward

Addiction to different forms of technology or online engagement is no new problem. We have looked at the problems related to smartphone addiction, social media addiction and even video game addiction before. The big question is what to do about it.

Researchers from this study were able to use their research to determine a possible improved approach to treatment for online gaming addiction. They stated, “Based on these physiological and psychological effects, interventions intended to prevent and treat internet game addiction should include stabilizing epinephrine, norepinephrine and anxiety levels in adolescents.”

Help can be found at White River Academy

For those with sons struggling with online gaming addiction, social media addiction, smartphone addiction and so forth, we can help. White River Academy is a therapeutic boarding school for boys that offers a safe environment for education and treatment. If your son is struggling, please contact us at any time through our 24/7 helpline for more information.

About the author

Brianna Gibbons, graduated from Westmont College with a Bachelor of Arts in English. In her spare time, Brianna loves to read, write, knit, travel, dote on her pets and randomly go on small adventures with friends.

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