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A 2016 study by the University of Nottingham discovered that teenagers who play video games that depict alcohol and tobacco use may be influenced by that imagery. In fact, those teens were twice as likely to try tobacco and alcohol products as teens who didn’t play those games.
While there has been plenty of debate in recent years over whether violence in video games impacts players, it’s equally important to determine whether frequent drug and alcohol abuse in similar games can influence young players. Do these games actually glorify addiction, rather than showing some of the dangerous pitfalls?
America, in particular, seems to be laser-focused on the opioid addiction affecting the nation. While that’s a serious problem, alcohol use could be an even more widespread problem that isn’t getting enough attention, especially among millennials. Because video games can change the actual structure of the brain, looking at alcohol and drug use in certain games and how they might be influencing young players is one way we can better understand these addictions and the way they’re being presented.
So, which games are glorifying alcohol addiction and drug abuse? Do video games still have any redeeming qualities? Most importantly, what can you do if you or your child/teenager is struggling with addiction?
Which Games Make Light of Addiction?
Most video games that showcase drugs, drinking and tobacco use are “role-playing” games in which the player follows a particular storyline. Most of these games are supposed to be somewhat realistic in nature.
Drinking in video games doesn’t offer the player anything in “real life.” If alcohol is present and the character in the game is able to drink it, they might get drunk at the amusement of the player. In some cases, substances and drinks that look like alcohol are used as healing potions and nectars to give characters more power. Obviously, building a connection between feeling better and drinking or doing drugs is a big red flag, to begin with. But, which games specifically try to portray drinking in a glamorous way?
A popular cyberpunk game called The Red Strings Club uses alcohol as a way to manipulate other characters in the game. The main character is a bartender who serves up custom cocktails and gives them to his patrons to lure information out of them. In Fallout, drinking alcohol can boost your charisma and even your strength. In Bioshock: Infinite, alcohol also has healing properties.
To be fair, some popular video games do show the darker side of drug and alcohol use. Max Payne has been portrayed as an alcoholic in his games, and in many of the Grand Theft Auto games, you can see characters stumble around with blurred vision and get into fights after getting drunk. So, while there are attempts to show that substance abuse isn’t all fun and games, it should be noted that the characters with these issues are often main characters, and the “heroes” of the games, so even with their struggles they end up on top.
Are Video Games Really That Impactful?
Simply put? Yes. As stated above, they really do have an impact on the way the mind works. And, with the average gamer playing almost six hours each week, that’s plenty of time for themes and ideas within those games to sink in.
The good news? Because video games can change the way you think, there are plenty of positive uses for them. Games have been used to help veterans struggling with PTSD since they are a natural way to reduce stress and can help to deter negative thoughts.
Gaming is also sometimes used as a form of therapy, especially virtual reality (VR) games. They can be used to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and are being used more frequently by mental health professionals in counseling sessions or as a form of treatment at home.
Treating Addiction – No Matter the Cause
Like most things in life, gaming has its pros and cons to consider. With the right uses, gaming can actually be very helpful. It reduces stress, can serve as a temporary distraction and is often a great form of entertainment. But, for impressionable minds, especially young people, it can also glamorize the lifestyles associated with drug and alcohol abuse.
If you or someone you know is battling addiction, recovery isn’t impossible. Medications like Suboxone are often used to help people struggling with addiction. More often, therapy and counseling can help an addict to not only detox from the drug of their choice, but to learn the skills and strategies necessary to overcome addiction and start on a new, clean path.
Support groups, individual counseling, inpatient/outpatient settings, and recovery support services can all help someone who is struggling with alcohol or drug use and wants to get clean. Addiction is dangerous, no matter where it stems from (yes, even if it stems from video games). Getting the right kind of treatment quickly is the most important thing you can do for yourself or someone you care about.