October brought us costumes, candy, pumpkins, and fall fun. November brings thankfulness and the start of our holiday season. Our Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa lists start to fill with gifts to buy for our family, friends, or even oneself. One of the most asked for items for kids, teens, and young adults are video game consoles and the games that go with them. These games can be a great source for fun, but they can often have themes and story lines that are not age appropriate.

As we now know, screen time can affect a child’s brain development and mental health. A recent study showed that too much screen time can affect brain processing speed3. In addition to this excess screen time, some video games tend to be centered around substance use, violence, and other harmful themes that can affect the way our children think and behave. One study revealed that video gamers have a significantly higher consumption of alcohol than non-video gamers1.  The same study also pointed out that although the problematic use of video games is often short lived, the early use of substances increases the risk for later dependency. This study pointed out the need to teach adolescents and young adults about the possible risks of video games as well as the need for parents to monitor their use1.  Listed below are a few of the top video games that have scenes of substance use in them:

  • Fallout: This game uses drugs as “boosts,” which can lead your character to have increased intelligence, damage output and resistance. This ultimately helps with beating the game. In the game, your character has to keep taking the drugs to get the boosts, which means that your character is becoming addicted2.  (Rated M for Mature; Rated R according to Parents Guide)
  • rand Theft Auto: This series of games are notorious for their profanity, sexual references and drugs. Versions of the game explore drug dealing and building drug empires, where the character can make money by selling cocaine, heroin, downers, acid, marijuana, and ecstasy2. (Rated M for Mature; Rated R according to Parents Guide)

These are just a few examples of the many games that reference drug use. Video games can be a tool that some use to escape everyday life and live in a made up world for a little bit. The question to consider is whether or not to let your children play games that include scenes involving drugs or games that are beyond the recommended age. Parents or Guardians, please research the games that your child is asking for this holiday season and talk to them about substance use and addiction.

For more information about game ratings and game reviews, please visit the following sites:

  • commonsensemedia.org
  • imdb.com (search for your game of choice and under ‘storyline’, click ‘parent’s guide’)
  • askaboutgames.com


  1. Coeffec, A., Romo, L., Cheze, N., Riazuelo, H., Plantel, S., Kotbagi, G., and Kern, L., (2015). Early substance abuse consumption and problematic use of video games in adolescence., Frontiers in Psychology. 28 April 2015.  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00501/full?fbclid=IwAR2Dyt4KG9lsNLyxQTmeNJj8dA0XlqsDWXpqiALYutgg6z0ZFuXbT11ico
  2.  Edwrads, A., 14 Video games that let players take  drugs and completely trip.  https://www.ranker.com/list/ways-to-trip-balls-in-games/aaron-edwards
  3. Saker, A., (2019). Too much screen time changes children’s brains, study finds. USAToday. 4 November 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/parenting/2019/11/04/too-much-screen-time-changes-brains-says-cincinnati-childrens-study/4156063002/