Expert Refutes Tabloid's Claim That Gaming Is As Addictive As Heroin

By Victoria Kim 07/11/14

Unsurprisingly, the infamous British tabloid The Sun blurred a few lines and fudged some facts to generate a shocking headline.

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An article published Tuesday by the British tabloid The Sun with the headline “Gaming as addictive as heroin” claimed Britain “is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse.” But Dr. Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University and an expert who contributed to the Sun piece, staunchly refuted the paper’s position.

“I’ve spent well over 25 years studying video game addiction,” Griffiths told Eurogamer. “If we’re going to use the word addiction we have to use the same concepts, signs and symptoms we find in other more traditional addictions, like withdrawal and tolerance. By doing that, the number of people who end up being addicted by my criteria are actually few and far between.”

The Sun article quoted Dr. Aric Sigman, who said that games produce dopamine in players’ brains in a process similar to the release of chemicals triggered by heroin use, adding that “violent games have been found to make young people more likely to cheat, be impulsive and unable to control their emotions.” Steven Noel-Hill, a therapist at The Alchemy Clinic, which treats addicted gamers, was quoted as saying that video games are “the scourge of our generation,” and that Call of Duty has been “linked” to three or four suicides.

Despite The Sun’s claim that the country is “in the grip” of a dangerous gaming addiction, Griffiths had a different view. “There is no evidence the country is in ‘the grip of addiction.’ Yes, we have various studies showing a small minority have problematic gaming. But problematic gaming doesn’t necessarily mean gaming addiction. They’re two very separate things. Yet the media seem to put them as the same.”

“It’s quite clear that some, whether it’s kids or young adults, have some problems around the fact they seem to be unable to control the amount of time they spend gaming, and maybe it’s impacting other areas of their life," Griffiths added. "But just because there are some addictive-like components there it doesn’t mean they’re genuinely addicted.”

This is not to say that gaming addiction does not exist, Griffiths stressed. However, these cases are few and “most kids can afford to play three hours a day without it impacting on their education, their physical education and their social networks.”

“Yes, I believe video game addiction exists, and if it is a genuine addiction it may well be as addictive as other more traditional things in terms of signs, symptoms and components," Griffiths said. "But the good news is it is a very tiny minority who are genuinely addicted to video games.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr