Video Gaming Addiction (VGA) and other extreme and excessive forms of compulsive technology use are part of Process Addiction Disorders. Process Addictions are a behavioral addiction that involve a compulsion to engage in rewarding non-substance-related behavior. Sometimes, these are referred to as a natural reward despite the negative consequences to the person’s physical, mental, social, or financial well-being.

Young adults who become entangled in Process Addictions often have a strong history of social isolation; due to the “pseudo-connection” they often feel as a gamer in a virtual world. As humans, we are hard-wired for social connection, and when deprived of it, are prone to engage in behaviors which essentially medicate this need.

At the Lifeskills South Florida, we use a whole person approach in treating the following in four phases:

Phase 1
Usually lasting 2 – 3 weeks, is a “digital detox” where the Participant is removed from access to the internet and digital screens and reintroduced to the naturalistic rewards of real-time living. During this phase an emphasis is placed on re-balancing mind, body, and emotions along with good nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, and social interaction.

Phase 2
Engages the Participant in more active social interaction, communication, real-time activities, healthy lifestyle, and education of both the participant and family members on the dynamics of internet and technology addiction. The focus in phase 2 is on: managing stress, social skills, learning to cope with boredom, and how to avoid triggers and urges to go online.

Phase 3
A step-down phase where Participants are gradually weaned-off the externally imposed structure of the program and assume semi-independent responsibilities, with some reintroduction to technology access while still experiencing the support of the Lifeskills clinical team.

Phase 4
The final phase of the program consists of discharge planning, structuring aftercare, beginning to resume a more balanced life which might include work, school, social activities, and healthy self-care.

Video Game Addiction

In 2019, the World Health Organization officially declared Video Gaming Disorder as an official mental health diagnosis and recent statistics show that over 164 million Americans play video games.

While a great form of entertainment, the addictive natures of these games are caused by the effects of elevated dopamine on the brain. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical that’s evolved for our survival, but sometimes the brain gets highjacked by addictive substances and behaviors like video games.

  • When video games reward you or you experience something new, a small dose of dopamine is delivered to your brain.
  • What makes video games particularly addictive is the variability in when and how you receive rewards in the game, and that makes the video game similar to a slot machine.
  • Over time the brain’s dopamine receptors can become accustomed to this dose of dopamine which we call tolerance.
  • This makes video game addiction similar to drug and alcohol addiction. The brain does not care what substance or behavior is providing the dopamine, it just knows that it wants it again and the more variable and novel it is the stronger that additive pull will be.

The addictive properties of video gaming can be related to other addictive behaviors such as gambling, pornography, or shopping. Video games are designed intentionally to give players the feeling that they can and should always improve on their previous performance.

Players are left with the feeling of potential and of maybe getting to that new goal or achievement. They could possibly level-up the next time they play, or they could beat that level or task that has been driving them crazy. It is this same potential that keeps gamblers coming back to the casinos.

Technology Addiction

Technology and the internet have become an integral part of everyday life and are finding their way into more and more daily habits. Most behavioral health and addiction specialists agree that young adults are spending close to 6 hours a day on either a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Internet technology utilizes user-experience guidelines that make it easy to find the information, content, or entertainment desired within seconds. While these practices are helpful from a convenience standpoint, they can have unintended consequences in three ways:

  1. Each time that a smartphone, tablet, or computer provides particular information, there is a small dose of dopamine delivered to the brain. Over time, the brain can become accustomed to these dopamine drips that internet and technology use provides. Individuals will find themselves feeling bored, uninterested, or unmotivated to do anything that doesn’t involve their screen device. This is a similar set of circumstances with other addictions, such as gambling, food, drugs and alcohol.
  2. The faster a person clicks on something they like or want online and the quicker it shows up on their screen the more potent and powerful that addiction response becomes.
  3. In this way, internet and technology function similar to a slot machine where someone never knows what they are going to get, when they are going to get it, and how desirable the content will be for them. That variability makes the internet experience potentially more addictive in that the rewards (small elevations of dopamine) are unpredictable and changeable.

The brain does not care what activity, behavior, or substance is delivering the dose of dopamine, it just knows that it is desirable. People don’t actually become addicted to technology, but rather the feelings or fulfillment that it provides on a neurobiological level.

Lifeskills focuses our program around retraining the brain to redevelop getting fulfillment out of new real-time activities instead of just from the internet and technology. With help, participants learn to use technology in a healthier and balanced manner to reengage in their daily lives.

Smartphone Addiction

Today, it is typical to see someone staring at their smartphone, endlessly scrolling. Recent research suggests:

  • Up to 25% of children and young adults experience problematic smartphone use or smartphone addiction.
  • Average smartphone usage sits at 3-6+ hours a day and, according to Pew Research, 46% of US adults say they could not live without their smartphone.
  • 8-12% of smartphone users met the criteria for addicted use, according to a 2014 study conducted by Dr. David Greenfield, in partnership with AT&T.

Smartphones have become a necessity but operate similar to a small slot machine, doling out rewards in the form of desired content, social media updates, messages, news, and information. Each time someone receives something they like, a small dopamine hits their brain, but what makes smartphones even more addictive is the notification feature.

Notifications tell the brain that a reward might be waiting for them, and the “maybe factor” creates an addictive pattern in the brain where the expectation of seeing something the person might like resembles what happens when anticipating winning on a slot machine. It is that anticipation that keeps their eyes glued to screens for hours each day.

Social Media Addiction

Social media has fast become the cornerstone of communication in the modern digital world. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok provide endless feeds of photos, videos, discussions, news, and entertainment.

According to Pew Research:

  • 69% of older adults in the U.S. use Facebook.
  • Instagram and Snapchat are used by 67% and 62% respectively among 18-29-year-olds.
  • 74% of Facebook users visit several times a day even if they suspect little has changed.
  • Over 76% of Instagram users visit the site daily, and 60% do so multiple times a day.

Social media has become the dominant means for sharing a person’s life with others; however, they often find themselves lost in countless hours of mindless scrolling, posting, liking, and commenting– often with a significant amount of time spent on site. Is the use of social media truly social or does its addictive potential contribute to an anti-social form of social connection and intimacy?

Social Validation Looping
When a person posts about their life or shares their opinions, they wait for friends and followers to like, comment, or re-post what they posted. Facebook and many of the social media platforms are designed with algorithms that dole out likes in a variable and unpredictable fashion so the person continues to have a need to check and be on-screen; every once in a while, they’ll get a like or comment that provides a small dopamine hit and just like a slot machine, it will keep them coming back for more.

Social media is a catalyst for social comparison and lowering our self-esteem. When people post their positive (often unrealistic) and fabulous lives on social media, others find themselves craving what they have or worse, judging themselves for what they don’t have. This form of social interaction offers little in the way of actual intimacy or real social connection and often leaves the user feeling empty and lonelier.

People don’t actually become addicted to social media. They become addicted to the neurobiological changes that come from engaging with it. At Lifeskills South Florida, we focus on helping patients find fulfillment from other real-time activities as well as making social connections and ultimately learn to use social media and other internet technology in a healthier and more balanced way.

We are here to help.
Call 754-227-2423 to speak with our admissions team.

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