Is Video Gaming Really A Medical Disorder?

Is Video Gaming Really A Medical Disorder? This Week in Addiction and Recovery News

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When the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized video-gaming as a “disorder” earlier this year, the move drew as much skepticism as it did support. A new Vox feature indicated that video game addiction is “real, rare and poorly understood.” The story said that experts, gamers, and tech websites felt that the WHO’s decision “scapegoated” a larger societal problem, though the WHO argued that the designation is as legitimate as it is unfortunate. Part of the issue stems from the fact that video gaming has become a mainstream activity. Vox noted that the number of active gamers worldwide will rise to nearly 3 billion people in 2021. The WHO designation “will allow the systemization of education and prevention,” said Joël Billieux, a University of Luxembourg professor involved in clinical and research work. “There will also be more means for doing research and better understanding the condition.” Billieux also cautioned that the number of hours someone dedicates to gaming nor the lack of physical symptoms don’t factor into the WHO’s perspective: “The main thing for me is loss of control—meaning you don’t play when you planned to play, you play more than expected, and you lose voluntary control of the time you spend gaming,” Billieux added. “The other thing is evidenced negative consequences at, for example, the social level, the academic level, professional level, or personal level.”

Loneliness Leads to Addiction, Neuroscientist Says

Neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman believes that social isolation contributes directly to opioid addiction, not to mention fueling drug use, relapses and overdoses. Wurzman’s work with the striatum, the decision-making region of the brain, led to her conclusions, The Washington Post reported. Also known as the “brain’s autopilot,” the striatum can trigger compulsive behaviors, including drug use. When someone is isolated or feeling lonely, the striatum ends up in a hypersensitive state. “If we don’t have the ability to connect socially, we are so ravenous for our social neurochemistry to be rebalanced, we’re likely to seek relief from anywhere,” she said. “And if that anywhere is opioid painkillers or heroin, it is going to be a heat-seeking missile for our social reward system.” The same place, however, that leads to addiction can also be leveraged for positive purposes: by repeatedly connecting with other people, the striatum helps to rewire the brain for increased happiness and improved decision making.

Dentists May Be Drilling Us Further into Opioid Epidemic

Opioid-prescribing dentists may be putting their youngest patients at risk of addiction, according to  brand-new research published this week. The study showed that young adults are very often introduced to highly addictive opioid painkillers when their third molars are pulled. “Given the gravity of the opioid epidemic, the degree of persistent use and abuse we observed in adolescents and young adults, especially females, is alarming,” researcher Alan Schroeder, a pediatrician and professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. “Our findings should trigger heightened scrutiny over the frequency of prescribing dental opioids.” What’s worse, the study suggested, is that anti-inflammatory meds like ibuprofen and acetaminophen work better than opioids. In other words: there’s no reason for children to be unnecessarily exposed to opioids—especially at such a critical stage for young brain development. Thirteen percent of private health insurance claims for patients 16 to 25 years old involved at least one opioid prescription in 2015. (Dental practitioners wrote 30% of those prescriptions.) Further, 6.9% of that same population received a prescription three months to one year later, which is a “red flag” for possible addiction. “The key message here is we need to be careful with opioid prescribing from day one,” said Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. “Your child’s receipt of opioids after a dental procedure may lead to long-term use or worse.”

Tranquilizer Addiction Doubled in Children, Study Finds

According to a brand-new study released by Public Health England, the number of children being treated for tranquilizer addiction has more than doubled. More disturbingly, that’s happened within one calendar year. Xanax (and its copies) “accounted for the sharpest rise,” BBC News reported. Xanax is the brand name for alprazolam, a benzodiazepine prescribed by physicians for anxiety and panic attacks. Many children are buying benzodiazepines (“benzos” for short) online, with no indication whether the drugs have been corrupted. “Benzos work by literally slowing down the functions of the brain, acting as a leveler in times of high stress, over-excitement or anxiety,” psychiatrist Dr. Durrani said. He added that serious side effects can occur with benzo use, including slurred speech and blackouts. “We’re seeing more and more people admitting themselves after becoming addicted to benzos,” Durrani said. “In most cases, their misuse stemmed from using the drug recreationally at parties and mixing it with alcohol, which proves a toxic combination.”

New York Awarded $9M to Combat Opioid Addiction

This past Tuesday Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that 26 counties in New York will receive nearly $9 million in federal funds to battle the opioid epidemic.  $5.7 million will help expand access to medications, $2.1 million will go toward building new recovery centers and more than $1.3 million will help develop specialized addiction treatment programs. “As the opioid epidemic continues to impact communities across the state, we are as committed as ever to expanding and enhancing programs that provide critical options for treatment,” Cuomo said. “We will continue to take aggressive action to combat this crisis and work to ensure these lifesaving services are available to any New Yorker who needs them.”

Virtual Reality Headsets May Be The Future of Recovery

Virtual-reality (VR) headsets used to be strictly the stuff of science fiction. Now, however, VR tech is playing a very real role in the future of addiction recovery. An innovative new tool called “VR-?” is nearing its rollout to rehab facilities nationwide. During therapy sessions, the headsets put patients in realistic situations that trigger drug and alcohol cravings. “The therapist can accompany you while you’re in a bar or a party setting and teach you skills in that therapy session,” said Patrick Bordnick, dean of the Tulane University School of Social Work. The VR-? tool has been integrated with smartphones, Bordnick added. The tool will afford physicians the ability to tailor treatment programs to individual patients, in order to help specific people to avoid relapse. Additionally, the tool is being leveraged to help empower autistic people with job interviewing and social interaction skills.

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Paul Fuhr is an addiction recovery writer whose work has appeared in The Literary Review, The Live Oak Review, The Sobriety Collective and InRecovery Magazine, among others. He is the author of the alcoholism memoir “Bottleneck.” He's also the creator and co-host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and recovery. Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and their cats, Dr. No and Goldeneye.