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More than a few adults have complained about the potential impact of video games since Pong first bounced into living rooms in the 1970s. Now one study suggests that teen video gamers who play frequently show brain changes similar to those found in compulsive gamblers. According to research published in Translational Psychiatry, teenagers who played more than nine hours of video games each week showed brain changes in three key areas. The frequent gamers:

  • Showed a larger ventral striatum, a structure that acts as the brain’s reward center;
  • Demonstrated shorter decision-making time;
  • Showed increased activity in brain areas related to reward.

In an interview with Live Science, study researcher Simone Kuhn said:

“This indicates that losing money is somehow rewarding for frequent gamers…This could be the neural basis of a phenomenon called ‘loss chasing,’ which is known from pathological gambling. It describes the phenomenon that pathological gamblers keep on playing even when they lose a lot of money.”

The findings don’t reveal whether frequent gaming causes these changes or whether those gamers were born with these features and characteristics already in place.

Why are these findings important?

While research about cause and effect are ongoing, it’s important for parents and other concerned adults to understand that frequent video game playing may contribute to factors that increase the risk for problem gambling, a serious, progressive disorder that impacts emotional, physical, and financial well-being. Gambling-addicted people have a higher risk of depression, substance abuse, divorce, and suicide. Learn more in Addiction to Gambling- Why Does It Happen? What’s more, casinos and game manufacturers distribute gambling-type games and apps using kid-friendly graphics or characters to mimic video game play. For example, some slots apps feature dragons, samurai, fairy tale characters, or even Biblical figures, such as Noah and Joseph.  Most of these apps don’t offer robust age verification systems, making it simple for teens to access games that combine video game-type play with gambling activities.

How can adults help teenagers make better decisions?

Parents and other concerned adults have the power to create healthier opportunities for adolescents to expand their boundaries and still have fun. The first step is to limit the amount of time any child spends in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids and teens spend no more than 1-2 hours per day on media, including video games. Adults can create healthy risk alternatives by providing opportunities for adolescents to:

  • Participate in a sport;
  • Join a club or other extracurricular activity, such as chorus or theater;
  • Volunteer for a local organization, like a senior center;
  • Learn a new skill, like playing an instrument or crafting fashion accessories.

Learn more about the benefits of taking healthy risks by reading Risk-Taking: Pain or Empowerment? It’s Your Call. To find out more about gambling addiction, visit SafeStakes.org, a compulsive gambling resource from Compass Mark. Take the simple quiz on the homepage to learn whether you or someone you love is at risk for gambling addiction, or check out these resources: How to Prevent Teen Gambling- A Parent’s Guide Teen Gambling- 3 Talking Points Parents Need to Know Compass Mark also offers We Know BETter, a FREE gambling awareness and education program for schools and other youth organizations. Learn more by downloading our brochure. For additional addiction education, prevention, and treatment resources in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA, contact Compass Mark. Our team guides individuals, families, schools, employers, and health care professionals. Call 717-299-2831 or visit Get Help Now.     Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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