Background: Computer game addiction is excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games that may interfere with daily life. It is not clear whether video game playing meets diagnostic criteria for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).
Objectives: First objective is to review the literature on computer and video game addiction over the topics of diagnosis, phenomenology, epidemiology, and treatment. Second objective is to describe a brain imaging study measuring dopamine release during computer game playing.
Methods: Article search of 15 published articles between 2000 and 2009 in Medline and PubMed on computer and video game addiction. Nine abstinent "ecstasy" users and 8 control subjects were scanned at baseline and after performing on a motorbike riding computer game while imaging dopamine release in vivo with [123I] IBZM and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).
Results: Psycho-physiological mechanisms underlying computer game addiction are mainly stress coping mechanisms, emotional reactions, sensitization, and reward. Computer game playing may lead to long-term changes in the reward circuitry that resemble the effects of substance dependence. The brain imaging study showed that healthy control subjects had reduced dopamine D2 receptor occupancy of 10.5% in the caudate after playing a motorbike riding computer game compared with baseline levels of binding consistent with increased release and binding to its receptors. Ex-chronic "ecstasy" users showed no change in levels of dopamine D2 receptor occupancy after playing this game.
Conclusion: This evidence supports the notion that psycho-stimulant users have decreased sensitivity to natural reward.
Significance: Computer game addicts or gamblers may show reduced dopamine response to stimuli associated with their addiction presumably due to sensitization.