Internet & Gaming Addiction
Addiction of all kinds starts with reward. When our actions are rewarded, a neural pathway in the brain is activated to release dopamine, which provides positive reinforcement for those actions. This plays a key role in human survival, as it effectively trains the brain to seek out essentials like food, water, sex, and nurturing. But it is also the basis for addictions of every kind, including Internet and gaming addictions.
Video games are actually designed to exploit this neurological process. Players receive rewards through their gameplay, and game designers have grown increasingly skilled at using these rewards to compel players to keep playing and advancing through their games. However, while “addictive gameplay” may be a good thing for video game companies, it can be dangerous for individuals who are more susceptible to addiction.
The same thing may be said about social media, or other forms of communication on the Internet. Whether we are rewarded with likes, shares, or even just a response to our comments or other expressions, our brains’ reward response is triggered, and we feel compelled to repeat the behavior for which we’ve been rewarded.
Even though they may involve other people, both social media and gaming are insular activities in that they are primarily performed by individuals when they are alone. Thus, the video gamer and the Internet surfer are both compelled by reward to keep gaming and web surfing, and can easily fall into habits that grow into ever-worsening addictions.
Treating Internet & Gaming Addictions
Unfortunately, both video games and social media are highly prevalent in today’s world. Not only does this make it more difficult to identify when gaming or Internet use has grown into a dependency, but it also complicates treatment.
Internet Addiction may be a substitution for real-life human connection. It is common for those with internet Addiction to struggle with “real life” situations and they often find an escape in chat-rooms, social-networking, web-surfing or playing games. Many internet addicts value their online relationships more than those relationships in real-life. They often experience a strong sense of community online rather than in their physical world. They may create a profile or identity they believe can’t be portrayed in real-life.
When to Seek Treatment for Internet & Gaming Addiction
It is exceptionally difficult to self-diagnose Internet and gaming addictions. Individuals who develop dependencies to Internet use or video games will likely dismiss the notion that they are addicted, but should pay heed and seek professional help if they recognize any of the following symptoms in themselves.
- If Internet use or gaming activities interfere with daily life (e.g. work, school, relationships, finances, sleep, diet, or hygiene)
- If you lose track of time and discover hours have gone by while engrossed in a game or online activity
- If the inability to go online or play causes you to lash out in anger or frustration
- If you find yourself planning your schedule around your gameplay or online activity
- If you lie to conceal in any way the extent of your gaming or online activity
- If you are unable to stop
Types of Internet-related Addictions
Internet Addiction represents multiple impulse-control issues including:
- Computer Addiction, or the obsessive behavior involving computer programming, software, and off-line computer games like solitaire.
- Information Addiction, or excessive web-surfing and searching.
- Online Compulsion, or the addiction to online gaming, gambling, stock-trading, or auctions.
- Cybersex Addiction, or compulsively using internet pornography, adult interacting and role-playing websites usually in replacement of real-life intimate relationships.
- Cyber-Relationship Addiction, the obsessive and compulsive use of social networking websites, chat-rooms, e-mail, texting or messaging, usually occurring instead of formulating real-life relationships.
The Next Chapter Approach
Next Chapter takes a highly-personalized approach to treatment for all of our clients, beginning with a thorough psychosocial assessment completed by patient’s therapist and a psychiatric evaluation completed by our medical director. Later in the process we often will include a psychological assessment to aid in the diagnosis of the condition or conditions each client is facing. These initial evaluations are followed up by weekly visits with our medical director and patient’s therapist and supported by our clinical team approach in which each client’s unique needs and treatment are addressed by the entire treatment team. The team meets daily to discuss in detail each of our client’s needs.
Together, our clinical team will prescribe a course of action that may evidence-based treatments practices such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Solution Focused Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, EMDR and other Trauma focused modalities. Individualized treatment plans also include therapeutic groups, individual sessions, family work, and 12-Step education groups.