Addiction is defined as an excessive or compulsive use of a substance or activity that interferers with ordinary life responsibilities of work, family, health, and social relations. We all understand addiction as it is related to drugs and alcohol. But addition extends to may other activities. One addictive activity that has come to the forefront in recent years is internet gaming. Internet gaming has become a popular pastime among teens and is causing some teems to become addicted to it.

What does Internet Gaming Satisfy?

Internet gaming can be a way to get needs fulfilled without risk. It satisfies our needs for adventure, social interaction, status, and accomplishments without any of the risks of interacting in the real world. Because the gaming world is not real, there are no real consequences. Gamers can always step away from the computer.

Consequences are an important part of understanding ourselves and the world we live in. For instance, if you get in a fight in the real world and lose, you feel the physical pain, you have to bear the humiliation, and damage to your reputation in a real way, possibly for a long time. However, you also learn to deal with the consequences in a mature way: you learn to live with the complex emotions and you learn how to move on. Internet gaming cannot teach this. In fact, internet gaming shields people from engaging in real life adventures and the risks and rewards associated with them.

Who is more prone to Internet Gaming Dependency?

Boys, specifically adolescent males between 12 and 20, are more prone to Internet gaming dependency, especially boys that are socially awkward or shy. Gaming allows these young men to step out of their skins and become characters in a game. A shy guy can be bold and daring in the gaming world. This sort of fantasizing is something we all do. We imagine ourselves with different characteristics engaging in activities in our imaginations. It only becomes a problem when it is compulsive and interferes with other activities. For teens, the social rewards gained in the gaming world form powerful incentives. What may be unattainable in the real world is available in the cyber world: recognition, status, power.

Adults are used to having responsibilities and commitments. Most of the time, they have a settled social structure and their lives are based around an established routine. Internet gaming may be a part of their lives, but other time commitments restrict the amount of attention and time that can be devoted to gaming. Teens, on the other hand, do not often have these restraints. And, lacking these restraints, teens can end up spending huge amounts of time gaming and becoming addicted to specific games. This is one of the reasons why they are more vulnerable to becoming addicted to Internet gaming.

Why is Internet Gaming Addictive?

Aside from all the social reward signals, Internet gaming stimulates and excites our nervous system. Since most of the games are violent (war, battles, crime, etc.), they put us on sensory alert when playing. If you have ever played Doom, you know what this means. This heightened alert state causes chemical changes in the brain. It is this ‘thrill’ that becomes physically addictive. And in the Internet gaming arena, teens can get the thrill without any of the associated risk that would normally moderate thrill seeking activities.

Internet gaming has been the source of a number of studies in the psychiatric community. Internet Gaming Disorder is not an official diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but the American Psychiatric Association has requested additional research on the subject. You can read their Internet Gaming Disorder Fact sheet here.

What are the negative consequences of Internet Gaming Dependency?

Internet gaming can be a fun activity if done in moderation. Like many other activities, it can be enjoyed without becoming an addiction. However, when it does, the consequences can effect normal emotional growth and enjoyment of life. Teens who become addicted to Internet gaming can experience social isolation, increased aggressiveness, poor coping skills, and reduced academic performance.

What Can Parents And Teens Do About It?

First of all, parents should try to be aware of how their teens spend time, who they hang out with and how they preform in school. Parents can also talk to their teens about spending too much time on the Internet and encourage activities that increase social interaction where people are physically present. Also, parents who notice that their teen is spending too much time on the Internet can take steps to restrict activity. Parents can make rules on computer time and allowable activities. The Internet is an integral part of our modern lives, however, it is not without its problems. The potential to become addicted to Internet gaming is one of them.

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