Video Game Addiction and Substance Abuse

By The Recovery Village | Editor Megan Hull
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD

 | Last Updated: June 03, 2022

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Video game addiction impacts individuals from all walks of life and often co-occurs with substance use disorders. Learn about video game addiction and substance abuse.

Video game addiction often co-occurs with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. In particular, there are many overlapping physiological pathways between video game addiction and substance abuse.

Video game addiction is characterized by compulsive gaming that continues despite negative consequences on an individual’s physical, emotional or mental health. Substance use disorders can be defined in much the same way — individuals who are addicted to one or more substances continue to use them despite severe consequences.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Video Game Addiction

The effects of drug use on someone with a video game addiction can vary widely depending on the type of drug used; for example, stimulants and depressants have very different impacts on the body.

Some of the substances that can affect video game addiction include:

  • Alcohol and Tobacco: In a study conducted in 2016, adolescents and teenagers that played video games involving content with alcohol or tobacco were twice as likely to use these substances.
  • Marijuana: In a study conducted in 2012, problem gaming slightly correlated with marijuana and alcohol use but not tobacco use
  • Stimulant Use (Cocaine/Methamphetamine/Caffeine): Stimulants, like cocaine, methamphetamine and caffeine, are often used by gamers so that they can spend more time playing video games

Can Video Game Addiction Lead to Substance Use?

Currently, not enough research has been conducted to determine the causation of a co-occurring substance use disorder and video game addiction. For example, researchers have not been able to determine whether video game addiction predisposes individuals to use substances, or if substance use predisposes individuals to develop video game addictions. More than likely, causation is dependent on an individual’s mental health, family history and current life situation.

Similarities Between Gaming and Drug Addiction

Besides the fact that video game addiction often co-occurs with substance use, both addictions activate similar neural circuits in the brain. A recent study from California State University found that the brain’s amygdala is activated in individuals with gaming disorders. The amygdala is a part of the brain’s “reward” system that is also activated in individuals with substance use disorders. Importantly, the same study showed that the brains of children with gaming disorders changed in ways that might predispose them to addictive behaviors later in life.

Other studies reveal several similarities in the brain scans of individuals with substance use and gaming disorders. These studies have shown that several brain regions were activated in the resting state of individuals diagnosed with gaming disorders, including those involved in:

  • Reward processing
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Conscious urges to use substances
  • Impulse control

Statistics on Compulsive Gaming and Drug Addiction

While co-occurring compulsive gaming substance use disorders are currently understudied, several studies have assessed the relationship between heavy video game use and substance use.

A study conducted in 2011 examined which substances video gamers used while gaming and found that:

  • Approximately 1.6% of study participants (video gamers) were problem gamers
  • 41% of participants used caffeine concurrently
  • 61% of participants used tobacco concurrently
  • 38% of participants used alcohol concurrently
  • 80% of participants used marijuana concurrently

This study suggests that using substances while playing video games is extremely common in both problem and non-problem gamers.

Treating Video Game Addiction and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

Depending on the co-occurring substance use disorder, video game addiction treatment may involve cognitive behavioral therapy, medications that decrease euphoric feelings generated from using substances or playing video games, support groups and relaxation techniques.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an untreated video game addiction and a co-occurring substance use disorder, help is available. The Recovery Village operates treatment centers across the United States that provide integrated approaches for mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Contact a representative at The Recovery Village today.

Megan Hull

Editor – Megan Hull

Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more

Bonnie Bullock

Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD

Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

Sources


Ream, Jeffrey et al. “Playing Video Games While Using or Feeli[…]stance Use Problems.” PubMed Central, October 18, 2011. Accessed May 9, 2019.

Science Daily. “Teenagers influenced by video games with[…]hol, smoking content.” University of Nottingham, October 25, 2016. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Hymas, Charles and Dodds, Laurence. “Addictive video games may change childre[…]ohol, study reveals.” The Telegraph UK, June 13, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Walther, B. et al. “Co-Occurrence of Addictive Behaviours: P[…]and Computer Gaming.” Karger, 2012. Accessed May 11, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

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