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Endorphins and the Science of Addiction

Very few parents would have especially surprised if you suggested to them that their child was addicted to video games or computer games. Yet the reality is that a great many children and young teenagers are addicted to video games, and that in some cases this is having a detrimental effect on them, both physically and emotionally.

Playing video games is not, for some people, an activity to which one can become addicted. Having said that though, it is only fairly recently that it has been admitted and accepted that gambling can be addictive, in the medical sense of the world, and increasingly addictive is being investigated as a consequence of a whole range of activities. It is even possible to be addicted to sport and exercise, to the extent that it can cause harm.

So what is meant by addiction, as far as doctors and medical practitioners are concerned? Basically, when the body or brain is engrossed in an activity, chemicals are released into the bloodstream, and quickly end up with the brain. These chemicals can make a people 'mood change quite dramatic, cheering them up, making them feel happy or good about themselves, distracted from the stresses and strains of life, and generally feeling positive and satisfied. Similar words and concepts used to describe addictions to drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. When an athlete runs or exercises hard, endorphins are released into the body and these can actually have the effect of giving the athlete a 'high', making them feel a rush of positive happiness. This can become very addictive, just as the body can become addicted to any chemical introduced to the brain which makes the brain feel good.

When children or young teenagers play a video game, they often have a great deal of adrenalin pumping through their veins, and the feeling of satisfaction, success, achievement or victory which the game provides can actually trigger the release of endorphins in the brain which make the player feel better about themselves. In some cases this can simply be a release or escape from the stresses of life – and let's be honest, children – especially teenagers, do have a good deal of stress to worry about these days. The release of these chemicals during the video game can have a subconscious effect on the child, and whilst they would severely deny that they are addicted to the games, and deny that it is even possible to become addicted to computer games, giving up will prove very hard, if not impossible.

Having said all that, I am in no way suggesting that video games are bad – quite the opposite. Video games play a very important part in children's lives, teaching them a whole range of very important skills, such as planning, logistics, teamwork, strategies, problem solving, saving, budgeting and so on. However, as with so many things, video games should be taken in moderation, and with enough variety of game types, and enough time away away from the games, there is no reason to rush out and ban them all today.

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