Have you ever sat and watched your child play video games for an overly extended period of time? 

Some parents describe their child’s state like that of a Zombie. The child is fully immersed in the virtual world, completely unaware of their surroundings or of the time, completely zoned out of anything other than the game they are playing.

This is called a dissociative state and it involves the part of the brain called the interoceptive network. This network is what helps a person regulate physiological signals such as hunger, thirst, visceral pain, fatigue, heartbeat, and provides incentive for taking action and meeting the body’s needs. For example, the body’s sensation of hunger makes a person want to stop what they are doing and go and get something to eat. The sensation of fatigue will prompt a person to stop what they are doing and go to bed. 

This enteroception network becomes disrupted in addiction disorders, such as excessive and problematic video gaming. These gamers stop paying attention to their need for food, for rest, for grooming, and their need to exercise to bring oxygen to their blood. Their emotion regulation becomes skewed and many parents have expressed concern for their child’s emotional and sometimes, violent outbursts both while playing games and when asked to stop playing. It’s as if they have not a care in the world that they are starving, exhausted, smell horribly, are cranky, depressed, and/or are violently enraged inside. 

As a result of becoming disassociated with their basic bodily needs, gaming addicts also have no awareness that their compulsive gaming is a problem for them or for their families. They stop paying attention to their body’s cues. Gaming becomes their only focus. They live and breathe to play video games for hours on end. They stop attending school or work or both. They ignore friends and families. Many give up any other forms of recreation they previously enjoyed. They often eat very little or they overindulge with junk food. Some will stop bathing and brushing their teeth. 

They become completely unaware that they have an addiction, that their emotional and physical health is declining as a result, and that they are literally putting their lives on hold. And they definitely have no understanding as to why their families are disappointed, frustrated, angered, exhausted, and feel utterly powerless and defeated.

For the addict, remaining in a dissociative state protects them and their need to game. Let’s face it, if they were fully cognizant of their poor state of health, they’d stop the excessive gaming behaviour and take care of their body’s needs. It’s not as though they are consciously shutting down their brain’s networks, but slowly over time, their ability to regulate their body’s signals becomes secondary to their need for the dopamine hit that gaming is providing. Dopamine is a strong chemical that contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, so gamers want more and more of that sensation. And the more they get, the more their brain and body wants, even to the detriment of their own well-being. Thus begins the belief system of perceived need versus actual need. They just can’t tell the difference anymore.

This is the time that family members need to take control. Their addicted child cannot regulate, they cannot see a problem, and they cannot stop their addiction on their own. This is also a time to look for support and solutions. 

Reducing gaming time, as a harm reduction strategy, or completely detoxing a child from gaming can be a delicate and difficult journey to navigate. It will initiate all kinds of emotional reactions and it will be an emotionally and sometimes, physically painful process for both the gamer and their family members. It will take time, patience, and perseverance. What’s most important to remember, is that the addict has lost all control. Any and all mental health and medical support systems should be put in place, in order to eventually snap the addict out of their disconnected state where they can eventually take action to recover and re-engage in a healthier lifestyle.

Work Cited: https://www.addiction-ssa.org/knowledge-hub/what-is-interoception-in-the-context-of-addiction/