Have you ever taken note of a drug addict’s behaviour and the signs of his addiction? 

Bloodshot eyes… Poor sleep pattern and appetite… Irritability and fidgetiness… Depression and weight loss… Being ‘completely zoned out’… Items or cash ‘disappearing’ (stolen) in their vicinity… These are just some of the typical signs.

Now, think of a gamer hooked onto their PC, Xbox or PlayStation. Do they not appear to be ‘zoned out’ and oblivious of their surroundings, spending hours and hours immersed in their fantasy world, leading them to become sleep deprived? Do their eyes not become bloodshot (from staring at the screen for extended periods)? Do they not become irritable and susceptible to mood swings? In many cases, does money not ‘disappear’ (where children ‘borrow’ their parents’ credit cards for in-game purchases)?

It’s quite uncanny really, just how similar the signs are, and just as a drug addiction can consume and kill a person, a gaming addiction can do the same – as seen in the incident below:

Piyawat Harikun spent several nights playing multiplayer battle games at his home in Thailand when it finally took a toll on him. His father entered his bedroom, only to find that he had collapsed and was dead. Medics believe that playing through the night had caused a fatal stroke. His father mentioned, “I want my son’s death to be an example and warning for parents whose children are game addicts… otherwise they could end up like my son.”

Incidents of gamers dying for their addiction are becoming more and more common. However, it’s not only the amount of time spent gaming that affects a person. Rather, the type of game also has a radical effect.

When a person plays a game, he loses himself in a fantasy world where there are no real-world consequences, and the deeper he immerses himself in that fantasy world, the more he loses touch with reality. Games teach us that life is not just cheap – it’s free, as a simple ‘restart’ reverses your fatal error. In fact, killing, with visual bloodshed and graphic, gory details, is often the highlight and purpose in a game, leading the gamer to lose his sense of empathy and value for human life. After spending days, weeks and months immersed in this world, the gamer is left desensitized, with the definitive lines between right and wrong, and imagination and reality, completely blurred. 

To understand the consequence of this, consider the following:

  • Adam Lanza massacred 27 people. He first shot his mother, and then drove to a school where he butchered 20 children and 6 adults. Lanza spent most of his time playing games such as Call of Duty and Gears of War. Apparently, Adam racked up 83,000 kills online, with 22,000 being head shots.
  • Devin Moore murdered three policemen and is believed to have been inspired by the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. After his arrest, he made statements such as, “Life is a video game. You’ve gotta die sometime.”
  • Tyrone Spellman, a 27-year-old man, was playing on his Xbox when his 1-year-old daughter accidentally pulled down the console. He flew into a fit of rage and beat her on the head five times, resulting in her death.

These are just three examples of the extent to which games and their addiction can completely corrupt a person’s mind, prompting him to lose the value of life and even stoop to killing his own parents or child. Furthermore, these are not isolated incidents, as many similar cases have been recorded worldwide. In essence, gaming is one form of ‘digital addiction’ which reduces a person to a ‘cyber zombie’. 

However, as harmful and detrimental as gaming may be, for a person’s spiritual, physical and even emotional well-being, it is NOT the only form of digital addiction.

According to statistics, the average person spends a minimum of 2 hours a day on social media. The general addiction to the smart phone is such that a battery dying or losing reception causes 73% of people to suffer stress and anxiety. This has lead to the recognition of a new condition known as ‘nomophobia’ (no-mobile-phobia). However, just like drugs and gaming, social media addiction consumes a person and actually increases depression and misery.

Through repeatedly viewing people’s ‘picture-perfect’ lives, one develops FOMO (fear of missing out). When one views his own ‘unremarkable’ and mediocre life in comparison, he fails to appreciate the countless bounties he enjoys and falls into depression, feeling that he is missing out and his life just isn’t good enough. Hence, a study by the University of Pennsylvania discovered that decreasing social media usage actually decreases depression and loneliness. In other words, if you want to be happy, GET OFF SOCIAL MEDIA! If you don’t, you or your child could end up like Ruby Seal…

Ruby Seal was a 15-year-old girl addicted to Snapchat, spending 8 hours a day on her phone. Eventually, she committed suicide due to depression. Her mother mentioned, “Social media was like a drug to Ruby – she was addicted. The more obsessed she became, the less she engaged with real life. She became withdrawn and isolated on it, always in her room, looking for likes, responses and answers to her problems on her phone from people who could not give them. It was a place for her to hide from reality while also seeking validation from her peers. It overrode everything else.”

From this testimony (which is undoubtedly echoed by millions of mothers and others), it is clear that through social media keeping people perpetually connected with the entire world, they have lost the simple ability to connect with those around them. They are on social media, yet anti-social. Thus, Facebook’s former vice president for user growth said, “I feel tremendous guilt… I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” It is for this reason that he does not allow his own children to use Facebook, and likewise, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook (who has no children), does not allow his nephew to use social networks.

If gaming and social media are two major culprits responsible for digital addiction, which is subtly destroying lives, then movies and show series are no less addictive. How many people start browsing YouTube videos, and before they know it, a whole hour or more has passed? How many people watch an episode of their favourite series, but can’t stop at one episode (as the cliff hanger ending leaves them craving more), and so continue watching until its way past their bed time? How many people are self-professed addicts of binge-watching Bollywood movies?

We must realize and understand that this is NOT a ‘harmless hobby’. It is an addiction and obsession that produces similar harms and ill-effects to gaming and drugs. One may be in his home, but the screen transports him to places in which he would never set foot – such as a church, temple and casino. He ‘passively participates’ in actions he would never normally contemplate such as murder, rape, drugging, partying, hijacking, etc. Even worse is the fact that these vile evils are glorified and made to seem attractive on the screen. 

Obviously, repeated exposure to such filth must certainly corrupt a person’s mind! Hence, there are multitudes of cases where people were inspired by a movie or show series to commit crimes, acts of violence and even murders. Just one example is that of 20-year-old Brittney Jade Dwyer who murdered her own grandfather, 81-year-old Robert Whitwell, by stabbing him in the chest and neck. Her motivation for this heartless murder was a TV series known as “American Horror Story”.

Finally, novels, blogs and other mediums of literature are also substances of addiction. With some people spending hours reading on a daily basis, the sheer amount that is read and the frequency with which it is read completely influences and reshapes the mind. In fact, reading is such a powerful tool that it can take just one book or article to completely corrupt a person. One well known example of this is the book ‘Catcher in the Rye’ (which was or still is included in the school syllabus). It has inspired the murder of at least three people and the attempted murder of a fourth. In one case, the perpetrator was even carrying the book at the time of the murder!

Another famous example is that of a 41-year-old woman who demanded a divorce after her husband refused to re-enact scenes from the infamous and filthy Fifty Shades novels with her. To state it plainly – the books had possessed her to the point where she was determined to terminate her marriage to indulge in perverted behaviour!

As we can see, addiction to gaming, videos, social media and novels/literature is extremely detrimental to a person’s physical, social, mental and emotional well-being. However, when it is said that every person is ‘addicted’ to something, then what should we be ‘addicted’ to? The answer – we need to become addicted to the love of Allah Ta‘ala.

It was ‘addiction’ to His love that caused the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum) to remain awake the entire night, finding ‘ecstasy’ in his worship. It was this same ‘addiction’ that caused them to spend all their money in the path of Allah Ta‘ala. It was this same ‘addiction’ which made their eyes bloodshot, as they cried to Him in du‘aa. It was the very same ‘addiction’ that caused them to be oblivious of their surroundings as they performed salaah. It was also this ‘addiction’ that caused their bodies to become thin as they continued to fast, day after day, and caused them to fall into sadness when they displeased Allah Ta‘ala.

Their bloodshot eyes, sleepless nights, thin bodies, sadness, spending money and every other action was also due to being consumed by an ‘addiction’ – the addiction of Allah Ta‘ala’s love. When a person shuns sins, exerts himself in righteousness and calls out to Allah Ta‘ala in du‘aa, then Allah Ta‘ala allows him to taste the true sweetness of His love which is more ‘addictive’ than any substance, hobby or obsession. However, this ‘addiction’ is such that it bears no ill-repercussions, but rather takes one on a journey of ecstasy to Jannah.

May Allah Ta‘ala make us all addicts of His Divine love, aameen.