Tag Archives: youth drug addiction

The connection between drug use, video games, deadly weapons and school shootings.

In the wake of school shootings by teenagers, everyone is running back and forth trying to find a possible cause to these monstrosities. Why would a ‘normal’ kid suddenly go berserk and try to end the lives of their teachers and peers?

 

While each case is different due to the various variables that could have triggered each shooter, there are things that most of them have in common and which are worth investigating. Is there a link between video games, drug abuse, and the availability of violent weapons such as guns and the shootings? This article will discuss that connection.

 

The Connection between Video Games and School Shootings

Most high school going kids are more than likely active gamers. And while video games have been shown to significantly improve visual-spatial skills, there can be too much of a good thing. Video games, especially modern ones that are mission-centered, are designed to hook the individual for hours on end. Additionally, there are so many levels or layers to a game that it might take weeks or months for one to complete just one game. And with the thousands of games available, the individual is more than likely going to have a lot on their hands. This constant playing is likely to result in a condition known as video gaming addiction.

 

In fact, the World Health Organization recently added ‘gaming disorder’ to its list of mental health conditions.

 

Gaming disorder can be used synonymously with video gaming addiction and refers to the condition where an individual loses control over their gaming habits, and they start prioritizing gaming over other interests.

 

But what does this have to do with shootings?

 

While some people play video games for purely recreational purposes, others use gaming as a coping mechanism for their stress and anxiety. As such, understanding the motivation behind the gaming is key to identifying the cause of their disorder. A study found that using gaming as a coping mechanism for stress resulted in even higher levels of stress.

 

To understand how video games are a contributory factor towards school shootings, let us look at the link between mental illnesses and school shootings.

 

The Connection between Mental Illness and School Shootings

According to the book, Gun Violence and Mental Illness, individuals who commit mass shootings are known to plan well in advance. They usually bottle up extreme feelings of anger and revenge. And because they are typically socially isolated, they tend to act alone most of the time.

 

The book further notes that there are common traits among the shooters in addition to historical factors that contribute to the massacres. In fact, a case study done on five murderers revealed that, during childhood, they began seeing people as uncaring and rejecting.

 

All subjects had been isolated or bullied during their childhoods, and they inevitably became loners who despaired over their social alienation. These led to paranoid tendencies such as grudge holding and suspiciousness.

 

Consequently, they spent a significant amount of time harboring feelings of resentment as they ruminated on past humiliations. This constant rumination eventually evolved into fantasies of violent revenge.

 

All the above are indicators of an underlying mental illness caused by the constant stress and anxiety felt by these individuals.

 

Coping Using Video Games

As a result of their social alienation, school shooters use video games as a means of coping. And they will spend hours on end playing these games. The American Psychological Association conducted a review of research and found out that individuals who play violent video games were more likely to engage in aggressive behavior.

 

If video games can foster violent behavior in mentally stable individuals, think about the impact they have on kids harboring violent revenge fantasies.

 

In addition to increasing an individual’s levels of aggression, violent video games have been found to desensitize gamers to violence. As a result, they have a lower value for human life. Consequently, the gamer’s lost empathy makes them more likely to take human life without the feelings of remorse that would affect a ‘normal’ person.

 

Drug Abuse and School Shootings

One of the more prominent mental health watchdogs, CCHR (the Citizens Commission on Human Rights), has been investigating school shootings since the Columbine High School incidence in 1999. The body’s investigation into school shootings reveals that at least 36 school shootings have been orchestrated by individuals using or withdrawing from the use of psychotropic drugs resulting in 80 fatalities and over 170 wounded.

 

Psychiatric drugs are typically prescribed to individuals with mental health problems to help them cope with stress or anxiety. Individuals might eventually end up developing a dependency on these drugs. Consequently, they start abusing the drugs, and drug addiction follows.

 

When the drug addiction becomes a real problem, withdrawing is usually the next logical step. However, a 2012 study published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics revealed that withdrawing from psychotropic drugs can lead to violent and aggressive behavior.

 

Video Games, Mental Illness, and Drug Abuse

Most school shooters usually have an underlying form of mental illness. Even though the specifics may vary among shooters, most of them, however; have been found to have had a troubling childhood. Often bullied or isolated, these individuals become loners who use video games as a coping mechanism. All while fantasizing on violent revenge.

Video games, on the other hand, have been found to increase the levels of aggression in the gamer while desensitizing them to violence. This results in reduced empathy which makes the person more likely to commit a shooting.

 

Psychotropic drugs are used to help individuals with mental illnesses to better cope with their stress and anxiety. And due to the high levels of stress these individuals have to cope with daily, they are more than likely going to get addicted to the drugs, whose withdrawal increases their aggression further.

 

It does not help that guns can be easily found in American households. In fact, an analysis of 145 school shootings committed since 1999 revealed that 80 percent of the guns were taken from the shooter’s home or that of their relatives. And if those weapons were not so easily accessible, over two-thirds of the shootings would never have happened.

 

The bottom line is, when you combine mental illness, drug abuse, video games, and weapons, the likelihood of a school shooting is greatly increased. To prevent this from happening, it is important that you get to know your child better. Look out for signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. Next, take them to a recovery center that takes a holistic approach to mental health treatment rather than just prescribing drugs to the child. Doing this might just prevent yet another shooting.

Video Gaming Addiction

Addiction is a term that most people associate with drugs, alcohol, and junk foods. Getting addicted to something, especially if it is unhealthy can be detrimental to your mental and physical development. People not only get addicted to substances and drugs but also video games. Let us discuss in detail what video game addiction is, its causes, effects and how to help anybody trapped in their world of video game addiction.

What is Video Gaming Addiction?

Video gaming addiction is the inability to control oneself from playing video games. According to a study , 1.4 percent of gamers are addicted to playing video games.

In recent times, many video game companies release games on a yearly basis. Each version of an upgraded game promises players better graphics and increased in-game control among a host of other upgrades. Gamers, especially on the online platform, feel immersed into the virtual world and forget what is happening in the real world. The more you play, the more intriguing the gameplay becomes. Meeting fellow players online and making friends with them from the comfort of a seat in your bedroom accelerates the process of addiction. This makes it difficult to withdraw from gaming.

According to Game Quitters, a website that helps parents fight their children’s video game addiction, some of the most addictive video games include first-person player games such as Fortnite, Strike Team, Bullet Force, etc. A study done by a group of researchers from the Oxford university states that 2-3 percent of gamers are heavily addicted and display diagnosable symptoms associated with gaming.

The Proof of the Danger?

In some cases, they can be debilitating addictions and clinical disorders that have ruined peoples lives. A whole generation of “Failure to Launch” Millenials have seen their schooling, job prospects and/or interpersonal relationships suffer–or even destroyed–as a result of their screen or technology addiction.Now there is a dedicated specialized program at Omega Recovery to effectively treat this issue.

Dr. Kardaras, our Co-CEO and Chief Clinical Officer, is considered one of the world’s leading experts on digital addiction (social media, video games, smart phones, etc.) and its treatment. He is the author of “Glow Kids” (St. Martin’s Press, 2016), the seminal book on the clinical, neurological and sociological aspects of digital/technology addiction and, over the past 10 years, he has clinically worked with hundreds of young people struggling with this issue. And now he has bought his years of expertise and developed the best evidence-based treatment protocols at Omega Recovery to address and treat the addiction of this millenium: technology addiction.

What causes video game addictions?

One factor stands out when it comes to video game addiction: video games are designed to be addictive. What other way is better than to keep players coming back for more? Video game addiction is also caused by the need to clear a mission and move to the next level. For example, some video game designers have their games structured in such a way that the gamer misses to proceed to the next level by a slim chance. As such, gamers have to repeat the mission until they are successful. Missions are usually harder as you proceed with the game, consequently resulting in addiction.

Video games become addictive by satisfying a gamer’s need to make social connections. Online video games offer gamers an opportunity to network and make friends with other players on the same platform. Players who lack social skills in the real world will be quick to jump into the virtual world and make friends with whom they share the same interests.

Other video games offer in-game rewards, which are seductive pursuits for some gamers. More rewards translate to more power, respect and ultimately ranking in the overall standing of the games table.

Symptoms of video game addiction

Research is still underway to disclose real symptoms of video games addiction. However,

studies published in the American Online Journal of Psychiatry indicates that there are more than five symptoms that can be used to identify an addicted video gamer.

Isolation
Many video game addicts will be quick to isolate themselves from social gatherings or events in order to play their favorite video game. They will come up with excuses to help them isolate themselves and play their favorite game.

Dysregulated gaming
Dysregulated gaming leads to significant distress, which is the first symptom of video gaming disorder. Online video game players will concentrate more on their gaming and procrastinate other duties. They are always preoccupied with the game they are playing or a new game that has just been released.

Observable shifts in interests.
Another way to tell if somebody is addicted to video games is by observing a shift in their interests. For example, if someone who would be happy to attend family functions prefers to play video games during such occasions, it is a clear indicator that they are getting addicted.

Lying
Most addicted gamers have been caught playing their favorite game after giving an excuse that they were preoccupied with some other different activity. Moreover, if all somebody can talk about is gaming and how good they are at a given game, it might point out to some significant extent that they are addicted.

     5. Treatment and cure from video game addiction        

Video game addiction always causes anhedonia, which is the loss of interest in things that excited or made someone pursue rewards. For an addicted gamer to find cure and treatment, they should:

Understand why they are playing a game.

Experts advise that to get out of video game addiction, a gamer should understand why they are playing the game in the first place. Most people play games to escape reality. As a result, gamers should set aside a limited amount of time to play video games. For instance, say, three to four hours of video games during weekends will go a long way in curbing addiction problems.

Find alternative hobbies

A gamer can find alternative hobbies and focus more of their energies indulging in them. Different hobbies take away the focus on video games and can allow someone to concentrate more on other things.

Cognitive behavior approach

Cognitive behavior approach is another way to treat video game addiction. Experts advise that you can overcome addiction by staying away from your playing station. Delve into the real world by driving a real car or attending social events that will cover up most of the time you use for playing video games.

Finding Help

The World Health Organization recognizes addiction as a condition in its international classification of diseases. And with numbers increasing, it is imperative that we address this societal problem. It is important for gaming addicts to speak to a professional if they are unable to overcome it by themselves. However, getting out of video game addiction narrows down to the addict and the amount of effort they are willing to put in recovery.

At Omega Recovery in Austin we’ve had success with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in helping the addicted gamer find more adaptive ways of managing moods, feelings and thoughts that may trigger impulses to game. Counseling supplemented with a good 12 Step program in a structured sober living environment is ideal to help overcome the addiction and return to society.

The Dual-Diagnosis Challenge

 

Dual diagnosis is a condition where a person is diagnosed with both substance addiction and a serious mental health problem such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or a bipolar disorder. It also goes by the names co-morbid disorders, co-occurring disorders, and co-existing disorders. They all refer to the same issue. When an individual has a co-occurring disorder, they have to simultaneously deal with both problems which makes their road to sober living and mental health much more difficult.

 

However, having a co-occurring disorder does not mean making a full recovery is impossible. The right help can help make a sober, steady life a reality. Many recovery programs have trained personnel who deal with both types of issues regularly. As such, it is imperative that you ask the treatment center you are seeking for your loved one whether they have expertise and experience in treating both addiction and mental health issues. They must provide assurance that they understand mental health concerns and how to help an individual recover from those as they treat the addiction problem. Not all treatment centers have the expertise and equipment to handle such situations. Failure to treat both issues concurrently almost always leads in one or both of the issues worsening.

 

Why Dual-Diagnosis is Difficult to Treat

 

When the individual increases their substance abuse, managing their mental problem becomes a lot more difficult. The reverse is also true. Moreover, having both mental health and addiction issues makes both problems more difficult to diagnose, as the behaviors and symptoms associated with each disorder will often complicate or mask the symptoms of the other.

 

As such it takes trained and dedicated specialists to untangle the disorders. Determining which condition came first is not as important as ensuring that both are resolved using appropriate treatment and care.

 

Nevertheless, denial is a common factor in both mental health and addiction problems. An addict often has a hard time accepting that their alcoholism or drug addiction is having negative effects on them and their loved ones. The stress of trying to mask the effects of their substance use causes them to feel ashamed and anxious. Moreover, the effects of the substances they are abusing can cause them to be depressed, have mood swings, panic attacks, and other symptoms that will only exacerbate the mental problem.

 

The same also holds true for individuals who have mental health problems. A lot of people find their symptoms to be shameful or as weakness. As such, they may either choose to ignore them and hope that they will go away, or turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to find relief. After depending on these substances to cure their frustrations, it eventually results in alcoholism and drug addiction, thus creating the co-occurring disorder.

 

Thus, even though it is hard to admit that they have these problems, it is the most critical step towards resolving their conditions.

 

Often, individuals suffering from either mental health issues or addiction problems find that other people within their families suffered or suffer from the same issue. It, therefore, seems to be a link between these issues and family ties. However, the exact role that genetics play in the development of these conditions has not been figured out yet. Nonetheless, patients of co-occurring disorders need professional help if they are ever going to overcome these problems and lead a healthy life.

 

Common Mental Health Disorders Linked to Dual Diagnoses

 

Substance addiction does not always lead to mental health issues, nor do mental conditions lead to addiction. However, they often become co-current because people turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Thus, substance abuse does increase an individual’s susceptibility to mental health problems.

 

Nevertheless, the following are the most common mental health disorders in Dual-Diagnoses:

 

 Depression.

 Anxiety.

 Bipolar Disorder.

 Schizophrenia.

 Attention Deficit Disorders.

 Personality Disorders.

 Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

 

It is important to note that even the prescription medication for mental illnesses such as antidepressants can also cause more problems.

 

How Many People are affected by Dual-Diagnoses

 

The Journal of the American Medical Association  reports that around 50 percent of all people diagnosed with serious mental health issues also struggle with substance abuse. Moreover, about 37% of alcoholics and 53% of drug addicts have at least one severe mental illness. Additionally, the Journal of Addiction Medicine reveals that nearly 60 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder also suffer from some form of addiction. About 44 million Americans have been diagnosed with some type of mental condition.

 

However, the number of people suffering from mental illnesses but have not sought help remains unknown. Nevertheless, estimates indicate that about 7 million US adults are coping with both mental health conditions and addiction, or have a dual-diagnoses. Sadly, however, it is estimated that only about 16% of individuals with dual-diagnoses ever seek treatment.

 

Treating Dual Diagnosis

 

The past three decades have witnessed a great deal of change on how co-occurring disorders are treated. Up until the mid-90s, people who were suffering from both addictions and mental illnesses were often denied access to treatment for their mental health issues until they were sober. This approach was heavily flawed as substance abuse is one of the major contributors towards mental disorders. As such, a lot of individuals with dual diagnoses were denied the treatment they required.

 

Today, however, treatment is focused on addressing addiction and mental health problems concurrently. It is a growing field of therapy that is more comprehensive and effective at ensuring that individuals suffering from both conditions make a successful recovery. Dual diagnoses treatment utilizes evidence-based programs such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, counseling, motivation enhancement therapy, in addition to 12-step programs.

Counseling, in particular, is essential during this treatment as it helps patients learn how to cope with their mental health issues without relying on alcohol or drugs to manage their symptoms. They are taught that these substances actually aggravate their problems. As such, these patients need to be seen regularly by a psychiatrist.

 

Moreover, these individuals are also taught about medication compliance, and the importance of taking their medication as prescribed. Individualized treatment plans and cognitive therapy programs are essential towards addressing the needs of each patient to further enhance the success of the program.

 

Co-occurring disorders require a minimum of a 30-day inpatient program in addition to an outpatient aftercare treatment to realize success. However, the best outcome is usually realized when the patient stays in the inpatient treatment for an extended period. Recovering from dual-diagnoses is not easy, it needs courage and commitment from the patient. This is because it can take months or years to change their maladaptive habits and behaviors. Treatment is essential in helping teach them that basics of sober living, decision making, and coping skills. However, they need to make long-term commitments so that the treatment can be successful.

 

Dual diagnosis is a condition where substance addiction and a mental health condition manifest themselves at the same time on an individual. For a long time, this condition was not handled appropriately, and patients rarely made a successful recovery. However, advancements in healthcare have seen to newer and more efficient techniques of dealing with the disorder. No one promises that recovering will be easy, but in the right hands, your loved one should get their life back on track.

 

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The Worldwide Pill Mill

prescription drug pill mills

This post was provided by Jack M. Feinberg of Phoenix House one of our awardees for “Best of 2011”, Awards curated by Hickory Wind.

In 2001, a California teenager named Ryan Haight bought Vicodin over the Internet and fatally overdosed; he had no prescription, and had never consulted with a doctor about the drug. The 2008 Ryan Haight Act was meant to prevent additional overdose tragedies by prohibiting the online sale of narcotics without a prescription—but has it worked?

As The Palm Beach Post points out this week, the crackdown on pill mills here in Florida has caused folks to start searching for other, easier ways to get high. That’s where the Internet comes in—over the past year we’ve seen a continuous rise in internet narcotics purchases in the state and elsewhere. The Post report is unfortunately correct in saying that “internet pill peddlers never had it so good.” These illegal vendors work through a combination of legal loopholes (including an online questionnaire that will purportedly be reviewed by a physician) and geographical confusion (offshore locations linked to multiple untraceable contacts) to sell deadly prescription pills to the next generation of Ryan Haights. They’re even using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to reach a wider – and largely younger – audience. This renewed accessibility of medications is especially troubling given recent statistics about the prescription addiction epidemic: as of this year, drug deaths outnumber traffic fatalities, with prescription overdoses accounting for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

We knew that something like the resurgence of internet “pill mills” would happen; personally, I was predicting that people would turn to heroin when the brick-and-mortar pill mills shut down, but the internet makes even more sense—it’s the ideal anonymous shopping mall, and it delivers to your door. The pill mills had to be addressed first because they were the biggest source, and now we’ll have to tackle the Internet as well. But this changeover proves what most of us have known for some time: we can’t just fight supply. Shutting down the local pill mills only feeds the digital ones. The demand for drugs in this country is so strong that people will always find a new way to get high—but that doesn’t mean that we should let things slide. We know from studying drug legalization in other countries that “just letting it slide” will only lead to more problems.

It always comes back to the same thing—we need to make more help available to more people. And not just people at the end of their rope. People with substance abuse problems face a number of crossroads long before they hit a dead end, and if there were more treatment options available at each of those crossroads, more people would get the help they need. Programs like Phoenix House’s SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) initiative, based in medical clinics, schools, and physician’s offices, help those folks who are still functional but whose drug use is negatively affecting vital aspects of their lives.

Perhaps an even better tool is social media—the very instrument that digital pill mills are using to advertise and support their illegal drug sales. Phoenix House is part of a growing online community of forward-thinking organizations (such as the Partnership at Drugfree.org, The Fix, and others) that offer aid and insight for people affected by substance abuse and addiction. With our platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and elsewhere, we’re sparking dialogues, increasing awareness, and showing folks how and where to get help. We’re presenting healthy options in places where people can simply stumble across them—the very same places they might stumble across Internet pill peddlers.

If we could only accomplish one thing in Florida, it should be to increase the awareness, availability, and accessibility of treatment at different levels and locations (physical and digital) throughout the state. Reigning in the pill mill supply was definitely the right first step, but prescription addiction, like any addiction, is a much bigger problem that needs to be addressed from all angles—otherwise, we’re just going to keep losing lives.

Jack M. Feinberg, LMHC, CAP

Vice President and Clinical Director

Phoenix Houses of Florida