It’s practically become a stereotype – the teenager or young adult who spends all night holed up in their room playing video games, surrounded by energy drinks and potato chips and completely ignoring all human contact. We can debate endlessly about whether this is harmful to their mental and physical health, and whether they’re being exposed to too much violence, but some parents worry that this obsession with video games can turn into addiction. Not just addiction to video games, which is increasingly becoming viewed as a real problem, but an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Is it really possible that video games can make young people use drugs?
Before we answer that, there are many things that can put a teen at higher risk for using drugs, but there are some that are more likely that you should consider first. If things at home are unstable or unpleasant, if they’ve suffered some sort of trauma, if they have a mental disorder like depression or anxiety, if they’re already taking medication for pain or something like ADHD, if there’s a history of substance abuse in the family, if they’re feeling pressured by their peers – it’s a long list, and these are all things you need to be aware of. There is a more comprehensive list available through youth.gov that you should check out if you have concerns.
There haven’t really been studies done on this topic; it’s more of an issue that gets picked up occasionally by a politician or a group that claims to be about preserving families. It is true that some video games depict drug use, but most of those games also contain bad language and violence. Since 1994, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has issued a rating to every video game released in the United States and Canada. You can look at the rating and see a list of all of the potentially objectionable content. For the example, the Call of Duty series, which is focused on warfare, contains cocaine use but is rated for mature (over age 17) players. Grand Theft Auto – whose name should speak for itself as to content – depicts the use of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Most of the games in this series are also rated mature.
So should you be concerned? If you’re really worried, you can keep track of what games your teenager is buying and follow the ESRB ratings to determine if they’re allowed to play. There’s also a searchable list of video game ratings and content on their website. However, it all comes down to having discussions with your kids, starting when they’re young. If you start talking to them early about the dangers of drug use and how they shouldn’t believe everything they see in various forms of media, they’re more likely to be able to view the games as just a bit of fun without taking them as a suggestion to use.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.