teens

"Aggressive, irrational, tired." Video games are turning teenage boys into lifelong addicts.

The teenage brain is the perfect breeding ground for addiction.

For any kind of addiction, the mechanism is the same.

The stimuli provides an oversupply of dopamine which pushes the set point for dopamine in the brain up and up and up.

This opens the brain up like a gateway – allowing other potential addictions to also weasel their way in.

The problem is, as the dopamine rises so does the brain owner’s levels of anxiety and depression.

Not only that – it degrades the brain owner’s impulse control ability and the ability to make rational thoughts.

Let’s round that out with the fact that when you’re a teenager, your brain is still being built and so addiction is hardwired into your brain mechanisms, making you more inclined to remain addicted, or be easily addicted forever.

This description is a summary of how David Gillespie, the author of Teen Brain, described to The Quicky what gaming addiction is.

Listen to the episode here. Post continues after podcast.

Gaming addiction has just been added to the World Health Organisation’s list of recognised disorders, and it looks like in time social media addiction will also be added to that list.

When we think about addiction – alcohol, drugs, and smoking come to mind.

But gaming addiction is very, very real, and in Gillespie’s eyes it’s “danger porn,” especially for teenage boys.

“All teenagers are more susceptible to addictions of any kind because of the way the teenage brain is set up, where a breaking system to stop them getting addicted to things is turned off for the duration of adolescence.

“In particular boys are more susceptible to games because they are set up to take advantage of the fact boys lack impulsive control because of the high levels of testosterone in their adolescence,” he explained to The Quicky.

When it comes to gaming, Gillespie doesn’t think it’s possible to play and not be addicted – and while it affects girls and boys, teenage males are the primary target.

“It’s like saying there’s a difference between a social smoker and a smoker, they’re both addicted they’re just able to control the addiction better if they are a social smoker or a gamer who only plays once a month,” he said.

“I would say almost every single adolescent male is addicted to gaming, and almost every single adolescent female is addicted to social media,” he added.

Young boy playing games on a computer at home
Teenage boys addicted to gaming become less controlled, and less controllable. Image: Getty.
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If you look to examples around the world, the headlines are terrifying.

A nine-year-old girl taken to rehab in the UK for a gaming addiction that saw her sitting in her own urine because she didn't want to leave the screen.

Or a man from Virginia who died after playing World of Tanks for more than 20 hours straight.

The immediate fallout from a gaming addiction is a lack of sleep.

That might not sound dangerous, but as Gillespie points out, "Lack of sleep will kill you faster than just about anything other than oxygen. Lack of sleep is very very dangerous to humans".

On a less worst case scenario level, if you're a teenage boy, lack of sleep makes you become less controlled and less controllable.

In Australia, children as young as seven are launching aggressive attacks on their parents, lying to get out of school, avoiding family holidays to play Fortnite, and in extreme cases threatening violence if computers or their devices are removed from them.

If we look to the current generation of teenagers, despite there being a drop in traditional forms of addiction like alcohol and cigarettes, Gillespie points out there's been a rise in teenage anxiety and depression.

"That tells you one form of addiction is being replaced by another," he explained.

Like any addiction, the answer is withdrawal.

But where you can abstain from alcohol to beat a booze reliance, or throw out your packs for cigarette addictions.

With gaming, it's a lot trickier.

"Most schools are requiring teenagers to carry devises at all times, that have these things [games] installed on them," Gillespie said.

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