When Video Games Become Addictive Dr. Andrew Doan on How He Was Hooked

Whether it is Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Playstation or old-school arcade games, everyone has their favorite video game. Many have fond memories playing with friends, learning secret codes, or getting the latest game. But for some, the simple video game turns into hours and hours of playing. For a handful of people, those hours become an addiction to video and online games. Andrew Doan was one of those people. He played video games as a kid, using the video games as an escape. Doan later obtained medical and doctoral degrees in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He suffered for years with addiction to Internet gaming. He is now a recognized expert in technology and video addiction and author of Hooked on Games. He is also a prominent eye physician and surgeon, and his practice helps restore the sight for many in Ethiopia. We talked with him in 2013 about how people develop addictions and how he overcame his video game addiction.

Andrew explained to us how people develop addictions.

“Addictions can be broken up into two categories; substance abuse, which we know – alcohol and drugs, and then behavioral. What’s amazing is that regardless of whether it’s substance abuse or behavioral, both lead to the same prefrontal cortex neurotransmission pathway called the dopamine pathway. Pretty much all substances, and all behaviors, that feel good lead to that pathway. For instance when someone takes cocaine, they will get a whole does which makes them feel high. When you have a behavior, let’s say even a common one, like eating chocolate, it hits our mouth and the pallet and then you feel this rush from your face all the way to your head, that’s the dopamine rush and the association with eating something that feels good. It’s the same concept with sexual intimacy too. So the question now is, can a behavior like technology stimulate the same pleasure centers in your brain? And the MRIs and research show that dopamine is release in the brain similar to that of drugs and alcohol. You take somebody addicted to technology – like Internet pornography or Internet gaming – and their head lights up like someone addicted to alcohol or drugs. It all leads to the desire to escape something. Another example is if you took an MRI scan of someone using their cell phone; their brain lights up like somebody in love…Or you took a picture of yourself and you put it on Facebook, and you feel this incredible sensation when someone you are attached to “likes” your picture. That’s why we fall in love with our devices; it stimulates the pleasure centers.”

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:12-13

Andrew grew up in a Buddhist home and didn’t know what a relationship with God looked like. He shared with us how he became a Christian.

“It goes through phases. We have awareness, ‘Wow, God is real.’ I had a week where I just balled and said, ‘I’m sorry Lord. I just can’t believe I did all this stuff.’ It was during my ophthalmology residency in Iowa when I discovered that God is real, He’s very real. And I had a week of repentance where I thought, ‘Wow, I am a sinner. I’ve been abusing my life, not managing my time…’ And I went through that process, but I didn’t know how to have a relationship with the Lord. I was so arrogant and thought about John 3:16; I’m good to go, I’m done, I’m tagged for Heaven. But my wife had gotten saved before me and she was in Bible study and kept encouraging me to read the Bible. I was lazy and I didn’t want to take time to get to know [Jesus]. My life got to the point where I was a Christian, but things weren’t working. I was still spinning my wheels. About three or four years ago, I started with a men’s Bible study and we went through the book of Hebrews. When I started reading, the scales feel off my eyes and I could see what I needed to do in the world and what the Lord created me for. That’s how I ended up writing ‘Hooked on Games’ and that led to the Ethiopian Eye Hospital Mission and other things I’m involved in. I’m not anti-game; I’m just anti-abuse of games. It’s like water, you drink too much water and you’ll die from brain swelling. Too much video gaming is bad, but enough can actually teach hand-eye coordination. So doing cataract surgery is like playing a game of asteroids for me. I can sit three at the microscope and divide the cataracts in half, quarters, eighths; the little pieces are moving around, it’s like playing a video game. I can do that all day. I realized the Lord has blessed me with these surgical hands and I can restore sight and minister to [people].”

Risen Reflections

Do you have an addiction? Whether it is video games, pornography, alcohol or drugs, ask the Holy Spirit to help you overcome your addiction. Celebrate Recovery is a great program that helps people with various types of addictions. It is offered through the local church, but anyone can attend. God has given us the body of believers to help us through the process as well. Friends and family can help pray for us, take us to meetings or be a listening ear.

Help a friend. Pray and ask God how you can help a friend that is struggling. If someone shares their addiction with you, commit to helping them find professional help. Be willing to listen and go with them to counseling or meet with a pastor. Often times the initial steps of getting help can be overwhelming and having a friend walk thru the process can be helpful.

To read our entire interview with Andrew Doan click here.

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