Reprinted following the Aurora, CO shooting 7/25
Already emotionally unstable, James Holmes may have been pushed over the edge by external influences. Whatever the official diagnosis, it would be insightful to discover which factors may have exacerbated the underlying pathology that led to the tragedy in Aurora. Descriptions of James Holmes’ sociopathic/asperger’s/ADHD-like behavior point to the possibility that chronically low dopamine levels may be a factor in the final diagnosis. The combination of simultaneous social isolation and violent behavior are also symptomatically consistent with dysphoric mania; a dangerous, perfect storm when extreme, dark depression (depleted dopamine) meets extremely intense energy (elevated dopamine).
Sixteen hours of violent video gaming, which friends reported Holmes played regularly, would pump out dramatic dopamine highs, followed by the same agonizing withdrawal any serious drug addict suffers. Studies, such as those in Nature and the Journal of Addiction Medicine, link significant increases in dopamine with video gaming. Sugar, fat, and caffeine can also cause dopamine to spike, but at a lesser degree than violent video gaming.
Dopamine is an opiate peptide similar to cocaine and amphetamines. Like the illicit drugs, high enough levels of dopamine pumped out by engagement with violent video games, extreme risk, and competition, evoke manic-identical feelings of invincibility and frenetic, hyper-activity, even in healthy individuals. And, as with cocaine and amphetamine use, symptoms of withdrawal mirror the depressive phase of bi-polar disorder – the fatigue, lack of pleasure, anxiety, irritability, sleepiness, and, sometimes, agitation or paranoia.
Which of our family members or co-workers with vulnerable psyches, when constantly barraged by violent media, could be the next tragic mass shooter? Neuroplasticity (the changes our brain makes in response to injury and exposure to external influences) guarantees that without requiring accountability for the potential physical and mental harm resulting from violent media, these incidents will become even more commonplace in the future.
There was a time when the damage of tobacco, the lack of universal suffrage, and the inhumanity of slavery went unquestioned. At some point ignoring the threat of violent media will be viewed with similar disbelief. Civil society is at risk.