Video games and substance abuse: is there a connection?

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Spending 20 years running Recovery for Life, an addiction treatment center in Virginia Beach, Paul Hardy has seen it all.

"Someone who's gotten a DUI," said Hardy. "We've had people drive the car up, kick the kid out and say, 'I don't care what it takes. Just get him off the drugs'."

A former drug and alcohol addict himself, Hardy estimates he's helped 10,000 people recover from addiction.

When it comes to addiction -- whether drugs or alcohol or something more innocent -- Hardy says Dopamine plays a big role. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's pleasure centers.

For that reason, Hardy says, people who are addicted to video games are also vulnerable to drug addiction.

"If you take a picture of a person's brain who becomes addicted to video games they are lit up in the same areas as crack-cocaine and sometimes as opiates," said Hardy.

A 2011 study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry suggests brain activity that controls desires to play internet video games is similar to those with substance abuse problems.

Last week the Medical Examiner confirmed with News 3 that a fentanyl overdose killed a Virginia Beach man in February while he took a break during a marathon video game session.

Fentanyl is an opioid 25 times more powerful than heroin.