Life in the 21st century is full of temptations and few of us aren’t addicted to something. There are the obvious substance addictions like nicotine, alcohol and street drugs, but people can also become addicted to behaviours like sex, gambling and even work.
People who are addicted struggle to control their actions even though they realise how destructive their behaviour may be. Addiction involves the brain’s reward centres, and the pleasurable reactions we get from engaging in certain activities make us crave more of the same.
Addiction and withdrawal symptoms
Narcotics and alcohol for example cause the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released in the brain. When this process happens repeatedly, it changes the brain’s reward system and leads to addiction – and withdrawal symptoms when the stimulus is removed.
A new study from the University of Plymouth in the UK and Queensland University of Technology in Australia has revealed that the tile-laying game Tetris can help to reduce cravings and addictions.
Participants in the study, which was published in the journal Addictive Behaviours, found that their cravings were less intense and that the frequency and vividness were reduced when they were playing the game.
The 31 undergraduate participants, aged 18 to 27, were required to report on their cravings seven times a day but were also encouraged to report independent of any prompting. Fifteen participants played Tetris for three minutes before reporting on their cravings again.
Professor Jackie Andrade, from Plymouth University, said that Tetris reduced the participants’ cravings for drugs, food, and activities from 70% to 56%, which demonstrates that “cognitive interference” can be used to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating.
The theory is that Tetris works because playing a visually interesting game occupies the mental processes that support the imagery involved with a particular substance or indulging in a particular activity.
Andrade said that it is hard to “imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time”.