Video games are just as addictive as gambling and alcohol, new research suggests. Olivia Metcalf, a graduate student at Australian National University, studied gaming as part of her PhD program. She's demonstrated that excessive gamers, just like heroin, alcohol and gambling addicts, have "attentional bias"—meaning an inability to stop thinking about their habit and focus on other tasks. "We didn't find that pattern in people who play video games but don't experience any negative symptoms," says Metcalf. "So it's not something that occurs because you do a behavior a lot. It's some sort of change that occurs in your attention system, in your brain, when an addiction is developing. We found this core sign of addiction in these thinking systems of these people who play games excessively."
Her research is being hailed as the first scientific evidence that video games can be truly addictive. She presented around 20 excessive gamers with a series of words, asking them to respond to the color of the word, rather than the meaning, and found that (unlike a group of non-gamers) they performed the task more slowly when gaming-related words were involved. "We know that people are gaming excessively but we're not sure yet what type of problem that is," says Metcalf. "There's a lot of speculation that it's an addiction and what we need is this scientific evidence and that's what my research has found. It's found really good objective indicators that excessive gamers are displaying signs of an addiction and that's the first step to lead us to developing treatment and therapies to help those individuals." She notes that only a minority of gamers suffer such negative consequences: "We're really just focusing on helping this minority of individuals who are experiencing negative problems and to make sure that video games stay fun for them. We want video games to stay fun and enjoyable and entertaining for everybody."
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Although gratitude is nominally central to Thanksgiving, for many folks, the focus is more on food, football and defusing or at least deflecting family feuds. Being truly thankful, however, is strongly linked with both mental and physical health—and cultivating it can help relieve stress, depression, addictions and other afflictions.
Many of us may critique AA from time to time, but the gratitude list, and the emphasis on counting your blessings, is powerful and important medicine.
This Thanksgiving, a group called Moms United to End the War on Drugs hopes to raise awareness by getting families impacted by drugs to take a snapshot of an empty seat at the table. These photos are meant to symbolize any family members missing because of a connection to drugs—whether they are suffering from an addiction, locked up in prison or living on the streets. "My son was born in 1971, the same year that President Nixon declared war on drugs," says Gretchen Burns Bergman, executive director and co-founder of Moms United To End The War on Drugs and A New PATH. "And since that time it's been really devastating, not just to families but to our whole community in terms of loss of life, loss of liberty, we're stigmatizing and criminalizing people who use drugs or have addictive illness like my sons do." Her two sons have both struggled with drugs and subsequent stigmas within the family, and now she hopes this campaign can help improve the situation. “One in four families are dealing with addictive illness and now that means so many more are also dealing with the criminal justice system,” Bergman says. “But because it’s so highly stigmatized, they’re not speaking about it. So we’re inviting them to speak out. Because I think mothers together…are able to change laws and policies for the sake and the health and wellbeing of their families.” The group invites anyone whose families have been impacted by addiction to take their own atypical holiday photo and send it in.
Reader's Question: How did you feel admitting you were an alcoholic to your parents/family? Personally, I find this to be the scariest part of "coming out" in regards to my alcoholism and have yet to do so. There would be so much embarrassment and shame on my part, as well as the difficulty socializing with them when drinking is such a key component during family gatherings.
[Jane is now exclusively answering your questions about addiction, recovery and the like. Send your questions to email@example.com.]
Watch out: those late-night Facebook binges and Twitter benders might actually be making you crazy. A new study out of Israel reports that excessive use of social networking sites can lead to psychotic symptoms such as delusions, anxiety and confusion. Dr. Uri Nitzan, of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, presented three in-depth cases involving patients who sought refuge from a lonely situation in intense virtual relationships. The study showed that all of these online relationships led to feelings of hurt, betrayal, and invasion of privacy. Two patients felt vulnerable after sharing private information, while the third patient experienced tactile hallucinations, believing that the person beyond the screen was physically touching her. “All of the patients developed psychotic symptoms related to the situation, including delusions regarding the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer,” says Nitzan. "As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies such as internet addiction and delusions related to the technology and to virtual relationships. Computer communications such as Facebook and chat groups are an important part of this story." According to many psychologists, addiction to social networking sites like Facebook is a growing problem; "Internet addiction disorder" is being considered for inclusion in the 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).