• Nanine Iengo

Hooked on Gaming: Dealing With Screen Addiction

A mother uses the lessons of her own recovery to help her son find healthy ways to cope with ADHD and addiction to technology

When I was younger, I could not get enough of Atari. Yes, I’m dating myself, but I LOVED Asteroids and PAC-MAN, and Galaga. Wandering around the arcade, I would lose track of time, and eventually, I lost myself. When Nintendo came out, I devoted days to playing Super Mario Brothers. Today, when I play with my son, I can still remember the tricks and cheats, the hidden coins and secret passageways– and it feels so good. To this day, I still believe I didn’t have enough time with these games. Sometimes I wish I could go back to those solitary days, playing Nintendo alone in my parents’ basement. Nintendo didn’t ask me to like it, it didn’t require me to talk to it (though I did, and most of it was not nice). Nintendo didn’t get me in trouble or make me apologize. Best of all, video games always delivered immediate gratification.

Today, I see the addictive tendencies I exhibited as a kid mirrored in my 10-year-old son, and it scares me. My son has ADHD, and is currently a Minecraft zombie. I can see the way his favorite game utterly consumes him. As soon as he enters that digital universe, he disappears, ignoring the world around him, losing himself in the game. When I ask (or force) him to stop playing, I can see the despair and anger caused by being separated from his virtual world. I remember feeling the same way many years ago, and I know now that these feelings were a warning sign for addiction problems still to come.

An ADHD brain is very similar to the brain of an addict. Addicts and ADHD patients are never satisfied, always desiring something more to keep them occupied. The brains of both ADHD patients and addicts exhibit underactive reward systems that are constantly in need of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. Video games reinforce the Addictive brain via visual stimulation and constantly increasing reward systems. People who suffer from compulsive issues like ADHD, ADD, and addiction are highly susceptible to reward-based stimulation, resulting in addiction to technologies like video games and social media.

I was never diagnosed with ADHD but I certainly have compulsive and addictive issues that I battle daily. Some days are easier than others, but I know I will have battle these issues for the rest of my life. And now, I fear that my son will struggle too. Hopefully I can use my own experiences to create strategies and habits that will help him cope with these addictive tendencies early on. Ironically, technology has come to my rescue in the form of search engines, wellness blogs, online chat rooms, and message boards. These resources offer countless methods for dealing with the causes and symptoms of a neuro-atypical brain. There are hundreds if not thousands of resources out there, and a variety of treatments that require no medication or medical assistance. Meditation, breathing exercises, stretching, and good old-fashioned exercise are just the tip of the iceberg.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, ADHD, or ADD, try the good old-fashioned basics: get plenty of sleep, drink water, eat clean, meditate, exercise, and remember to slow down and take time for yourself. Limit TV and screen time, and get in the habit of practicing self-care– a long hot bubble bath is one of my personal favorites. And most importantly, reach out and talk to someone you trust. It could be a therapist, recovery coach, a family member, or even a good friend– as long as it’s someone who will listen to you without offering criticism, reprisal, or judgment.

Remember, the fight against addiction and ADHD is a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient, be kind, and PRACTICE. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.

-- Nanine Iengo for Life Assurance Recovery 2017

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