Can a Video Game Help With Drug Cravings?
In an international collaboration of science, research, and video games, psychologists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology have uncovered something pretty cool.
Playing Tetris – yes that Tetris – three minutes a day for one week reduces cravings for drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and other compulsive behaviors.
Tetris Has Been Shown To Help Alleviate Drug Cravings
We’re not making this up! Researchers published their findings in the journal Addictive Behaviours and sparked a lively discussion online about the merits of using video games in behavioral healthcare treatment.
This latest discovery comes on the heels of a report from researchers at Cambridge University, published in early July in the journal Psychological Science, that playing Tetris has potential as a treatment for PTSD.
What’s going on here? How is a video game – an incredibly simple one at that! – showing potential as a multidisciplinary tool in treating addiction and mental illness?
Read on to find out!
The Tetris Effect
“The Tetris Effect,” as we’re calling it, was discovered after psychologists from Queensland University of Technology in Australia and Plymouth University in England teamed up to study how the game impacts compulsive behavior.
They put together a small study involving thirty-one people. All participants were relatively young, ranging from eighteen to twenty-seven years old.
Their instructions were simple – text researchers whenever they had a craving for drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc. Researchers also periodically checked in and prompted participants to report any cravings.
Of the thirty-one people involved in the study, fifteen were asked to play Tetris for three minutes after they experienced a craving. They then reported back to researchers about whether they were still craving drugs, booze, etc. or whether it had passed.
This study lasted a week, with those who were asked to play Tetris repeating the experiment an average of forty times.
So, what did the psychologists running the study find? Well, here’s where things get really interesting.
Playing Tetris reduced cravings by an average of 13.9% over the course of seven days. Not only that, but it also reduced “strong cravings” participants experienced when they were actually drunk.
The abstract of the study, excerpted from Science Direct, lists the following highlights:
- Playing Tetris weakened cravings in natural settings.
- Tetris was effective for drug cravings as well as food and activity cravings.
- Effect was consistent over a week.
- Tetris was effective on higher cravings experienced under influence of alcohol.
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Why Does Tetris Work So Well to Reduce Cravings?
That’s the real question, right? After all, it’s surprising and neat that playing a simple video game has the potential to help addicts and alcoholics in early-recovery…but why?
Well, according to the authors of the study, it all has to do with the way Tetris interferes with how we process information.
Think about it like this – when you have a craving, it’s intense and overpowering. All thoughts besides getting high (or drunk, or overeating, etc.) are swept from your mind. Basically, it takes over your entire mental process until it passes.
Well, when someone has a craving and interrupts it by playing Tetris, that breaks the cognitive hold the craving has. Tetris is a visually stimulating and, as the levels progress, complicated game. It simply isn’t possible for someone to maintain both a craving and focus on the game at the same time.
And that’s the secret – simple as it may be – to using Tetris to help with recovery from drugs, alcohol, compulsive behavior, and, in some cases, PTSD.
The other neat thing researchers discovered was the longevity of “the Tetris Effect.” Remember, it was shown to reduce cravings for up to a week after participants played.
While it’s still unclear why this is – it doesn’t really matter, right? There’s now an incredibly practical and easy way to go out and help yourself if you’re having intense cravings!
Of course, we’re not suggesting Tetris is all someone needs to treat addiction. Still, it’s a useful tool for those struggling in early-sobriety.
What do you think? Let us know on social media!