As widely reported earlier this week, research by Olivia Metcalf, a 27-year-old graduate student in Melbourne, Australia, has provided groundbreaking evidence that video games are genuinely addictive. But concerned gamers can rest assured that she's not making an all-out attack on their habit: Metcalf, who conducted the research as the first part of her PhD program at Australian National University, happens to be a big video game fan herself. “I've been playing video games since I was a young child,” she tells The Fix. “They were a fantastic part of my childhood.” And not only her childhood: "I enjoy playing all sorts of games—when I get time!—action, adventure or strategy. Probably Heroes of Newerth would be my current favorite." While she was a psychology undergrad, however, she saw some of her friends affected by excessive gaming, and that's when she became interested in the subject. “I was surprised there was such little research and so much controversy,” she says. “Ultimately, I just wanted to know the answer to: What is excessive gaming, from a psychological standpoint? So I did a PhD on it!”
Metcalf’s experiment showed for the first time that excessive gamers, like heroin, alcohol and gambling addicts, have “attentional bias”—meaning an inability to stop thinking about their habit in order to focus on other tasks. While some games are more addictive than others—Metcalf says games that are endless and have complex reward systems are usually more addictive than games with defined endings, due to the repetition over time—the research suggests that personal factors make the most difference. “In my opinion, it is those individual factors that contribute to excessive gaming far more than any inherent ‘addictive’ properties of a game,” says Metcalf. “Personally, I believe that working out those individual risk factors and targeting those individuals at risk of excessive gaming or excessive gamers themselves is a far more effective way of dealing with the problem than to start with the games themselves.” Now that her work has garnered so much publicity, she hopes it will win more credibility for the field. “Excessive gaming hasn't always been treated seriously by the public, the media or science," she says, "and that's a real shame, because anyone who is a gamer or knows a gamer would be aware that excessive gaming is a real problem and deserves serious academic investigation.” She plans to conduct more research in this area as her studies continue.
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Pakistan's already-rampant drug problem is likely to worsen after withdrawal of troops from neighboring Afghanistan—the world's leading producer of opium. The supply of opium and heroin (an opium derivative) into Pakistan has significantly increased over the past five years, according to analysts, prompting a swell in drug use and addiction. Estimates of the number of Pakistani drug users currently range from 600,000 to 9 million, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, with the actual number probably somewhere in between. "[Drugs] are available like peanuts," says Dr. Saleem Azam, head of a rehab center in Karachi. "You are sitting in your office, you are sitting in your bedroom, you are sitting in your living room, you can call a person and he will drop the drug at your doorstep." The country's drug imports are expected to surge further when foreign combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, loosening any control there currently is over opium production and smuggling in the region. According to the UN, the amount of Afghan farmland devoted to growing opium poppies has jumped by 20% over the last year.
Didier Jambart, a 52-year-old married father in France, says that his Parkinson's treatment meds turned him into a “gay sex addict and gambling addict”—and a court has backed his claims. After he began taking Requip in 2003, he began to compulsively gamble and search for gay sex on the Internet; he claims to have lost the equivalent of $106,000 gambling on horses online—even selling his kids' toys to get more cash. He also started cross dressing, exhibiting himself online and going to discreet hookups with gay men. Jambart says that he tried to commit suicide eight times during this period. So he sued the makers of Requip—pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline—for all the changes that came over him...and won. The appeals court in Rennes, northern France, decreed that he should receive 197,000 euros ($255,200) as compensation for his pain and suffering. This may sound like an overly litigious individual hitting the jackpot, but Jambart's claims do hold water. Like other drugs used to treat Parkinson's, Requip—or ropinirole—is known for some extreme potential side effects. Suicide attempts are rare, but not unheard of. Impulse control going out the window is more common, leading to pathological gambling and hypersexuality—which would seem to explain the horse betting and anonymous encounters. But Jambart might still need to have a heart-to-heart with his wife; Requip's lengthy list of potential side effects doesn't include the sudden onset of homosexuality.
An Iranian man faces life in prison after being convicted by a New York federal court for attempting to transport over 250 pounds of heroin into the US last July. Prosecutors said Siavosh Henareh's drug plot was a scheme to finance Hezbollah—a Lebanese militant organization designated as a terrorist group by the US and Israel. Henareh's partners, Cetin Asku and Bachar Wehbe, were charged in the heroin conspiracy as well; they were also accused of buying weapons for Hezbollah. Prosecutors said Henareh had more than 30 meetings with undercover Drug Enforcement Agency sources as well as potential heroin suppliers in foreign countries including Greece, Romania, and Turkey since June 2010. In April 2011, he allegedly gave the sources a one-kilogram sample of heroin in Bucharest in advance of a 189 kilogram delivery, worth three million euros ($3,900,000 USD), and helped his co-conspirators count the money after the delivery. Asku and Wehbe pled guilty and face 25 to life in prison, but Henareh maintains his innocence and said he will appeal the conviction. “Mr. Henareh was never charged, extradited or prosecuted on any terrorism or weapons-related charges,” said William Ray, his court-appointed attorney. “This was a single count prosecution of conspiracy to import heroin in the United States. So unlike his two co-defendants, he never faced terrorism or weapons charges.” Hezbollah has also been accused of allying with the Zetas cartel against the US.
Some saw Being Bobby Brown as one of the best, if shortest-lived, reality TV shows of the last 10 years. The Bravo trainwreck followed Brown, Whitney Houston and their then-pre-teen daughter, Bobbi Kristina, in Atlanta. Now celeb-reality fans will rejoice as Lifetime's current show—The Houstons: On Our Own—further documents the life of Bobbi Kris, now 19, and her family while they struggle with their grief over Whitney's death. Unfortunately, Bobbi Kristina’s coping mechanisms are pretty dangerous. And watching people struggle with addiction proves just as heartbreaking-but-compelling as it did in Being Bobby Brown. Bobbi Kristina slurs her words, falls asleep at family functions and gets rushed to the doctor’s office for “dehydration.” Lifetime tastefully opts to show her vomiting on-camera. Then there's her Lohan-y smoker’s voice, her engagement to her "brother" and her Tootsie Pops diet. Grief is hard to handle at any age, let alone so young. But Krissy’s strategies could be killing her.
To say that alcohol and drug abuse are in her genes is an understatement: Whitney Houston of course overdosed in the Beverly Hilton last February (the scenes when Bobbi Kristina drives by that hotel are chilling); Bobby Brown just got his second DUI in 2012 alone; even her uncle Gary has a past history of struggle. When the family confronts Bobbi Kristina, she isolates. Her aunt even flies in her “spiritual mother” from South Africa for guidance. (Toni Luck has the best line of the entire series: “Girl, you gotta stop pouring vodka on your Cheerios.”) But the family pushes her further away. As Bobbi Kris says, “They judged mom and look what happened. She’s dead.” Oy.
The Houstons: On Our Own airs Wednesdays, 9 pm EST on Lifetime.