Internet gaming addiction: Can It Be Cured?

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

Addiction can feel like an endless cycle – there are ups and downs and it always seems to be there. For Internet gaming addicts, this cycle is extremely hard to break, because the Internet is always there and it’s often a necessary tool that needs to be used on a daily basis, whether it’s for school or work. Internet gaming addiction is very real and it is becoming a destructive force in the lives of millions of people. 

Shosh Shlam, the director of the new documentary film Web Junkies, went to a Chinese bootcamp that was created specifically for youth that are living with an addiction to online gaming and the Internet. She was intrigued with Internet addiction and saw that in China especially, there were incredible incidences of shocking scenes of this sort of obsession – teens were wearing diapers so they wouldn’t have to stop playing, they were staying up 24 hours at a time at gaming cafes, and they had completely disconnected with their families and social lives. The doctors treating Internet gaming addiction refer to the games as “digital heroin”. She created a documentary about the boot camp that claims to help young adults kick their addiction, once and for all. The psychiatrist that founded the center claims he has a 70% success rate, but Shlam couldn’t verify this statistic. She explains that the goal of the documentary wasn’t about finding out if the centers were helpful in curing the addiction, but rather, to expose the dark side of how Internet addiction is changing the way youth and young adults react. (1)

Internet gaming addiction is changing the way youth process their thoughts and feelings. Individuals that are addicted to the Internet are often very withdrawn, socially awkward, angry, or have difficulty processing feelings in a way that is normal. They instead turn to their games to escape and find acceptance. The following is an analogy we recently published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (2):

“Human beings practice who they want to become, and individuals must be careful what they practice and how they program their brains. When a young child spends too much time in Internet gaming or pornography, there can be significant problems associated with excessive use. We propose an analogy to clarify how a child’s nervous system may develop when exposed to excessive time engaging in Internet gaming or other Internet activities. Observe your left hand. The thumb will represent the cortical areas associated with all the benefits of video gaming and use of technology: quick analytical skills, improved hand-eye-coordination, and perhaps improved reflexes. The index finger will represent the cortical areas associated with communication skills. The middle finger will represent behaviors associated with social bonding with family and friends. The ring finger will represent the capacity to recognize emotions of both self and others (empathy). Lastly, the little finger will represent the cortical areas associated with self-control. While these higher executive functions are biologically based, they are not fully expressed without proper practice and feedback. When a child spends an average of 7h 38m in front of a digital screen for entertainment [Kaiser Foundation, 2010], that child is exceeding the recommended daily dosage for healthy screen time. Folding the fingers into the palm of your hand represents this situation. As the brain matures, the possible end product is a young adult who is all thumbs in their thinking: possessing quick analytical skills and quick reflexes, but not as developed in communication skills, having few bonds with people, exhibiting little empathy, and showing minimal self-control. Therefore, [Internet gaming disorder] in young children may result in significant problems later as adults.”

Curing addiction – whether it’s alcohol addiction, drug addiction, or video game addiction, is a very complex problem and one that is still being explored in a variety of ways. Technology and the Internet should be used as tools, but they should never have complete control over your brain or the way you live life.  If you or someone you know is showing signs of technology or Internet addiction, seek help immediately and start establishing boundaries.

1. Gupta, Dr. Sanjay. “Can Internet Addiction Be Cured?” Everyday Health. Accessed September 16, 2015.

NY Times Documentary, Web Junkies:

 2. Voss A, Cash H, Hurdiss S, Bishop F, Klam WP, and Doan AP. Case Report: Internet Gaming Disorder Associated With Pornography Use. Yale J Biol Med. 2015 Sep 3;88(3):319-24. eCollection 2015. Accessed September 24, 2015.

Internet Addiction centers in United States: