Anti-depressants in the war against game addiction

Hope may be at hand for the poor souls addicted to video games. Recent research from Korea has shown that a common anti-depressant, Bupropion (sold as Welbutrin, Zyban and Voxra) can “decrease craving for Internet game play” as well as the brain activity triggered by video game cues. This is a drug often used to help quit smoking, to lose weight or to recover from drug addiction, in addition to typical anti-depressant and anti-anxiety uses.

And, with Korean scientists already on-board, how better to test this theory than to gather up a bunch of StarCraft players? Video game addiction is a serious problem in that country, with government sources stating that nearly one in 10 online users (around two million South Koreans) are addicted to the internet and online gaming.

StarCraft - Terran Command Center

How does this make you feel?

Of the test group, eleven of the gamers met the criteria for Internet video game addiction, playing for more than 30 hours per week (that’s just over four hours per day – scarcely ‘addicted’ in my book). Blizzard‘s RTS had significantly impacted on each of their lives – six of them had been absent from school for more than two months (!), and two of them had been divorced due to their extensive playing habits.

They were given a six-week course of slow-release bupropion. Another eight gamers in the study also played StarCraft, but for less than one hour per day, less than three days a week.

StarCraft - Concept art for Sarah Kerrigan

How's your left hemisphere?

At the commencement of the test, and again after six weeks of drug treatment, brain activity was recorded via MRI as the participants were shown a collection of StarCraft cues (we assume pictures of Sarah Kerrigan were among them, and probably a few zerglings). In addition, the scientists also recorded any cravings for playing the game, the severity of internet addiction and any symptoms of depression.

Initial results showed that the “addicted” gamers showed higher left-hemisphere brain activity in response to the game cues, when compared to the “non-addicted” group. After six weeks of drug treatment, the activity was still higher than the other group, but less than was first recorded.

The “addicted” gamers also reported significant decreases when it came to their Internet Addiction Scale scores, total playing game time (35.5%) and their level of craving for StarCraft (23.6%).

…bupropion’s effectiveness against the more severe StarCraft II is not yet known.

The study was conducted by Han, Hwang and Renshaw from the Chung Ang University, College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry.

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