Gaming and Addiction Therapy

By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)

Even while traveling, I have to say, it’s hard to ignore the recent Charlie Sheen Media Spectacular. His very public fall from grace has dominated the headlines, trumping the crisis in Libya and the Royal Wedding. Once the lead star of TV’s top-grossing sitcom, Charlie Sheen has become good ol’ American folly.

Whatever your take on the situation, Charlie’s delusions about “winning” (at life, I presume), running on “tiger blood,” and being high on himself are obvious signs of a man in denial about losing control of his own addiction. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Sheen is onto something. No – really.

Charlie Sheen is out to prove to his critics that despite losing his job, his kids, and – some may argue, his dignity – he is, in fact, winning. And while it’s the kind of winning that is fed by ego than actual accomplishment, it’s something that drug therapists can work with, if he decides to seek treatment.

Back in 2007, Duke University professor Zach Rosenthal recognized the potential of gaming to treat drug addiction. He created a virtual reality game that presents tempting situations to recovering patients. The patients must overcome their cravings in order to beat the game. Beating the game…also known as winning.

My question is: why isn’t gaming more widespread in the field of addiction therapy?

One problem with using gaming as a treatment for drug addiction is that gaming is often treated as its own neurological disorder. While doing research for this piece, 90% of the search results returned gaming as an addiction, not as a solution. This is alarming, considering that gaming has proven to be successful in curing not just drug abuse, but post-traumatic stress syndrome, ADHD, and several phobias.

So how do we remove the stigma of gaming?

To start, the folks at Games for Health are trying to turn things around for medicinal gaming. Humana also understands the power of games to help us live healthier lives. Gaming gives addicts an objective that leverages one’s own ego in order to succeed.

You know what that’s called? That’s called winning.

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