8 Thoughts on Internet Addiction (MMORPGs)

When it comes to being a professional healer, self-disclosure and transparency are key elements in maintaining a human element in the therapeutic relationship. They are also part of living a life in accordance with what therapists hope to encourage others to do: be open to possibility, live in the present, and focus on positivity.

My generation has been gifted with the wonders of technology and social media. Generation Y (Millenials) are able to accumulate knowledge at the click of a mouse, and expose themselves to the endless cultures the world has to offer. With increased technology, and less worry of disease, younger people are born into a sink-or-swim technological race. It seems like the later one is born, the more he or she has to play catchup with technology, language, and cultural shifts. We are a generation swimming in information, and sometimes a few of us get caught in the turbulent waters. Some of us drown.

There seems to be a silent contract with technology. In order to master it, one must take time to fully understand the nuances of this complex beast. The tradeoff is lack of interpersonal connection. Not all of us are affected negatively with technology, however, from what I have experienced and seen, technology can turn some of us into people we never thought we'd be.

My name is Boontarika Sripom, and I am a recovering addict. I was addicted to online gaming for several years. My drug of choice was World of Warcraft, lovingly referred to as WarCrack by some gamers. I was an obedient daughter in an Asian household. My experience of the world was very limited and routine. In college, there were expectations to do well academically. I spent my hours studying, working on projects, and writing papers. I needed an outlet. I was introduced to MMORPGS and got swallowed into this world of dopamine-producing rewards and escape.

Addictions are compulsive behaviors,

and behaviors express some need that wants to be met.

Just as babies cry for basic needs, or toddlers cry for reassurance and safety, adults behave in ways to have needs met. Like drinking alcohol or substance abuse, many use to numb themselves from pain. In addition to numbing myself, I used gaming because I was lonely. The computer and internet were there to console me.

My lifestyle may have confused many people looking from the periphery. In my twenties I partied, went out, worked part-time, and played online games until the next day. Some, if not most people, could consider this lifestyle normal and healthy. To me, it wasn't. Something was missing, and my gaming time started to replace other activities. At one point, I played sixteen hours a day, only to sleep in between sessions.

I felt ashamed of my addiction. I felt undeserving of compassion or acceptance. I felt lonely and defeated. I was also scared of change, so I dug myself deeper into the depths of this compulsive behavior. I had no clue whether things could get better, so I found comfort in escaping in a world where I could not fail.

I started losing weight with my already small frame, and became sick more often. I lingered at the 99-pound mark with sunken eyes and a pale complexion. My appetite suppressed, and my emotions fluctuated more often. I became an irritated and angry person (Re: Nerd Rage). I started isolating myself from real life friends to chat with online friends. I stopped answering my phone, and a few worried friends checked in on me to see if I ate that day. My partner at the time gave me ultimatums to try going outside once a day. Other friends decided they were at their limits on patience, and cut ties with me. (I don't blame them. Everyone has a limit.) My compulsion to repeat had reached an intense rate. And my body and interpersonal relationships could not handle the consequences.

In between gaming and sleeping, I stayed in bed hopeless with the possibility of change. I just stayed there, unproductive with my precious time here. This pattern of gaming, sleeping, and dysregulated emotions lasted for six years.  I kept hearing words, which were similar to an alcoholic's,

"One more game--it's only one more. Try another quest and see what the reward is."

I felt responsible for letting my guild mates down if I didn't show up to raids on time. It started feeling like work, yet I was compelled to continue. Sometimes the enjoyment wasn't there, yet I kept playing because it was comfortable. It was all I had to fill my time. I relapsed countless times, and with each defeat, gathered the pieces of my broken confidence to try again. It was difficult.

The momentum shifted when I dialogued with a gamer about cognitive behavior. He and I were both floating in unemployment and thoughts of going back to school in an uncertain economy. His knowledge fed my insatiable curiosity about human behavior, and I went back to school. I enrolled in the local community college and studied psychology and human development. I started working with young children and it helped heal me.

My journey isn't over. My drug choice has affected my brain development and susceptibility to compulsive behaviors with technology. The neural pathways have been shaped, and I must diligently work to create new ones. This newness excites me. My curiosity for the brain and possibilities for change inspire me to empower others struggling with finding balance in such a chaotic world.

Some points I hope to focus on with internet addictions:

  • There is some underlying need that hasn't been verbalized. Having an honest, respectful, and non-blaming dialogue may help explore the purpose of gaming or internet use.
  • Loneliness or a limited support group may be associated with one's need to use the internet more often. Intentional interpersonal time may be scheduled to promote less of a need for internet use.
  • Unemployment or discouraging periods in life can also contribute to the desires to use the internet. Instant feedback from games and internet feed the pleasure/rewards systems of the brain.
  • Not having purpose, transitions in life without resources may also contribute to the need to seek instant feedback. Reaching out to community groups, volunteering, or giving can help increase autonomy from gaming often.
  • Restricted definitions for emotional expression. There may be a need to express a full spectrum of emotions, however, cultural norms may inhibit this expression. Gaming may offer an outlet, especially for aggressiveness and anger. Alternatives can be physical activity: taking a walk, jogging, swimming, etc. Joining group classes can also promote social activity.
  • Create. Many can find more purpose simply in creating for the sake of creating. Art can be healing, and redirect one's energy while also shifting perceptions of one's contributions to society. Creating beauty and self-expression benefits society.
  • Internet addiction is a legitimate addiction, and a lifelong battle. Some of us have more coping tools than others, and can find balance easier. For those of us struggling, we must forgive ourselves, and seek support for alternative ways of coping.
  • With the culture's dependence on technology, internet addiction and the need to learn social skills may increase with each new generation. Awareness is important, and clinicians will need to be prepared to offer support.

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