Want vs. Need: The Dopamine Fix and the SEEKing system

Mar 2, 2022 | The Community

By Dr. Stuart Shanker

Online gaming and social media are amongst the most significant social experiments that have ever been conducted, succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of their creators. To cite just one example:

World of Warcraft was released in 2004. It has over 100,000,000 registered users. There were 4,880,000 active players in 2020. As of 2020, it had generated $10,000,000,000 in sales. This is an extraordinary sociological phenomenon, just begging for a scientific explanation. An explanation that, as we will see in this webinar, takes us deep into the realm of neurobiology.

This is far more serious an issue than just a matter of scientific interest. The problem is, we are seeing far too many cases of internet addiction, causing a host of physical and mental health problems that go far beyond a lack of motivation or relationship problems. We are seeing alarming rates of anxiety and depression, and indeed, suicidal ideation. A sharp rise in obesity, sleep disorders, heart-rate irregularity, elevated blood pressure, skin disorders, blood clotting problems, neuropathy, visual problems, and headaches. And if all that were not enough, we are seeing reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex and increased arousal in the limbic system. For that matter, neuroscientists have observed a shrinking of white and grey matter, decreased working memory, diminished reward sensitivity, and a sharp rise in alexithymia. 

Put all this together and what you have isn’t just the result of sitting too long or not exercising and eating properly. This is a stunning picture of General Adaptation Syndrome: of a homeostatic imbalance involving multiple biological and psychological systems. If we are going to meet the challenge of keeping our children, youth, and young adults safe, we have to understand both what makes internet gaming and social media so potentially addictive, and why this can be so harmful. 

In my next live webinar on March 25th, we will see how Self-Reg addresses both of these critical questions.

– Stuart Shanker

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