In this interview to FIDE Master and psychologist Maria Rodrigo the interviewer asked her about chess and addictions:

XL. There are those who are not able to prioritize and get hooked.

M.R. Yes, because the dopamine rush during a game can be brutal. And that is something you have to learn to control. If you don't, you start a game, and then another, and another… And there is no one to stop. You lose hours of sleep… The problem of addiction is more typical in men than in women. Men are more hooked on video games and women on social networks.

I am a recovering addict. I passed through this clinic in Barcelona to recover from my addiction to alcohol and cannabis. They had a group where they used chess as therapy, so as a lover of the game I said to myself that chess couldn't be harmful for my therapy. But they banned me from chess, arguing I played obsessively. They said I could play once my two years treatment is finished. It was true that I played lots of online blitz, but I felt disgusted: why was I banned when they used chess as therapy for others?

Nowadays, I am in the ninth month of recovery. I left the clinic and I went to a psychologist. I don't play online blitz, but I play correspondence and I joined my club to play standard over the board games. My psychologist approve it but he is not specialist in addictions. At the clinic they wouldn't approve I am playing before two years of recovery.

I can read articles like this one on Chessbase where it is said they started a cognitive training through chess at a therapeutic community "recovering the cognitive functions (attention, memory, etc.) deteriorated by drug use, with the help of chess". But maybe this is focused on teaching how to play chess to people that didn't play lots of online chess while consuming drugs. And dopamine plays a role in addictions. At the clinic they said we were addicts to dopamine highs, so reading FIDE Master Rodrigo I would say it could still be harmful to my therapy and bring me closer to a relapse.

It is clear chess is good to treat other mental diseases like schizophrenia, and it looks good to teach recovering addicts how to play chess to recover the cognitive functions damaged by drug abuse (according to Chessbase article and my clinic), but is chess good for a recovering addict that played chess before his treatment started? Can it bring the patient closer to a relapse in drug use?

  • 4
    I am not qualified to answer the question, but you may want to read The Grass Arena by John Healy.
    – Arne
    Commented Apr 25, 2021 at 21:55
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    I believe there is a slight difference in playing online and blitz games that can lead to more hard dopamine rush than playing over the board clasical games
    – user27142
    Commented Apr 26, 2021 at 6:58
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    After one year an a half, I got the most important thing: I am out of alcohol and alcohol was destroying my life. I only play over the board games with my club. I am not convinced about what I heard in the clinic. It costed 60.000$. They followed a method taken from USA. They also forbide me to programm. After all I decided to enter in the clinic because of alcohol troubles and I have stoped drinking. I payed but I got the objective. I go with my friends to pubs and I take 0,0% beers wich would also be forbidden if I'd continue with the american method. I am not convinced about the answer marc
    – user27142
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 18:29
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    @Universal_learner I dont believe that this question should be on the chess stack exchange. The chess stack exchange are for chess hobbyists but I would recommend you asking this question in the psychology stackexchange over there you will get answers from many people who study the brain and psychology for a living. This question is well worded. I will recommend not changing but just copy and paste the question there.
    – Varun W.
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 22:53
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    @Varun W. Done psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/28165/…
    – user27142
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 10:13

6 Answers 6


Addiction is a complicated and multi-faceted issue, and although dopamine plays a role it's far from the only important factor to consider; this also depends on which type of addiction we're dealing with.

If we're talking about some sort of substance abuse (say, smoking, alcohol, hard drugs, etc.) then it's very common that a person becomes addicted to a substance that artificially affects the chemical balance in the brain/body. In this kind of scenario it is very hard to see how chess can make the original addiction worse, as any dopamine rush derived from chess is not caused by taking a substance to artificially affect the biochemistry of the brain. When considering how chess could have a positive effect on addiction in this regard it mostly comes down to it being a potentially effective form of distraction; one major problem with addiction is that a person can easily become a bit obsessed with whatever they're addicted to (especially when bored!), and in this case chess can serve as a good distraction making it easier to break the addiction/toxic habit.

Although chess can work as a therapy form for addiction it's not guaranteed to work. But it's a rather non-invasive kind of intervention in general, which is why I suspect you've seen it being used. Generally speaking, therapists tend to try the least invasive forms of therapy first and only go for more invasive methods if the addiction proves too strong (a common theme in, say, heroin addiction, where addicts often recieve "replacement drugs" so that they can weane themselves off of the heavier stuff).

So far I've only brought up substance abuse, but there are other forms of addiction that are worth addressing as well. Broadly speaking, practically anything can become an addiction, including chess itself. In this case, chess therapy would most likely not be a great idea, and I suspect if one has a problem with, for instance, online gambling, online blitz/bullet could prove to become a problem as well. In this case it's worth noting, however, that online blitz/bullet is not as financially draining as online gambling, although it can still have massive negative effects on the one suffering from the addiction. In essence, if your addiction is a form of "thrill chasing", then chess could end up being another addiction on the same theme if you're not careful.

At the end of the day, I'd say that chess as a therapy form depends on the addiction in question. So when you consider chess as a form of treatment for your addiction you must first have a clear idea of how your addiction works. What kind of addiction, what kind of triggers, how severe is it, etc.?

Whatever you take from this answer, I hope that your recovery process keeps on being successful. The answer I've given here is a rather non-specific one, and whether chess is the right thing for you is a question that only you can answer in the end.

  • Addiction works through the reward pathway of our brains. In many ways, the actual thing you are addicted to is almost irrelevant. It has been demonstrated (sorry no link, personal communication with colleagues working on addiction) that the biochemical manifestation of addiction to gambling is the same as that of addiction to heroin or any other substance. So it does actually make sense that the OP could be harming their recovery if they just transfer from one addiction to another even if the new one has no externally consumed substance.
    – terdon
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 17:20
  • @terdon If I read your comment correctly, I assume that you mean that addiction itself (no matter the cause) leads to a certain type of damage to the reward pathways, correct? I have no reason to doubt this, but does this imply that if I'm addicted to, say, alcohol, then I will automatically be more susceptible to every other form of addiction? Or am I just more likely to become addicted to substances similar to alcohol? I didn't see anything about this in the wiki article.
    – Scounged
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 22:08
  • Not damage to the pathway, no. It is more that those pathways play an essential role in addiction (this is why the ritual surrounding the addiction is often part of the addiction itself, the same effect as Pavlov's famous dog). This is not my field, I am a geneticist, but my understanding is that since there is an important aspect of addiction that is the same no matter what one is addicted to, that means that you need to break the cycle of addictive behavior and you cannot do that by switching to a different addiction.
    – terdon
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 8:26

Stack Exchange has a site dedicated to medical sciences.

If you open that, you'll immediately see that on the right column there's a disclaimer that you won't find on any other Stack Exchange site. It's a bit long, so let me cut the most important parts:

Stack Exchange Inc., and its sites including Medical Sciences Stack Exchange, is not a medical practice or healthcare provider and does not provide medical advice.


Consult your own doctor for medical advice.


Medical Sciences Stack Exchange is for information exchange only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, individualized diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare provider.

This obviously covers the legal aspect, but it's more than that. Even if there were no lawyers and lawsuits in this world, that disclaimer would still have value. Because, well, it's true. In general you cannot trust users on any of these sites to really know what they are saying. Your health is too important to blindly trust some random stranger on the web, no matter how high their reputation is or how sincerely they are trying to help.

Besides, it seems to me that you've already got the answer from your clinic:

But they banned me from chess, arguing I played obsessively.

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you'll have to accept it. I hope I won't sound judgmental if I tell you that what you are really doing here is not looking for an answer (you've already got one; only, it's one you don't like), but rather for an excuse that will let you keep playing and ease your conscience.
Imagine someone posted an answer along the lines of

Don't worry, those doctors don't understand anything! Playing chess can't be a problem, just go ahead and play as much as you want!

I suppose you'd be very happy to read it. And yet, who would you rather trust: the doctors that visited you and know your case specifically, or someone who probably has no idea what they are talking about, and who certainly doesn't know you, your clinical history, anything about you at all?

So do the right thing, and do what your doctors say. Or in any case discuss with them what you should do.

My best wishes for your full recovery!

  • I agree but I feel like this question is better off asked in the psychology stackexchange.
    – Varun W.
    Commented Jan 25, 2022 at 22:54
  • I would actually completely flip-flop it and say: don't trust doctors but do trust what people say on stackexchange sites. I am not trying to be funny: in my experience individual doctors are often wrong, however, the numbers (as in votes and reputation scores) absolutely tell the story. Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 20:53
  • @postoronnim I agree 100% but I mean for the sake of this question I told psychology stackexchange because they have more experienced people.
    – Varun W.
    Commented Feb 1, 2022 at 16:22

First, others have indicated this, but Stack Exchange really isn't a substitute for competent medical advice from someone who knows all of the details of your specific case.

One general comment I will make, though: there is no "one-size-fits-all" in recovery from addictions, or even to your own recovery. That being said, the answer to your question is "some people will benefit and some people won't." You may find that things will even affect you differently in different phases of your recovery - something that helped you may stop working, and something that previously didn't help you could start helping you.

A direct implication of this, of course, is that the mere fact that it's therapeutic for some other people doesn't necessarily mean that it's therapeutic for you; it can be helpful for some people and useless, or even counterproductive, for other people. This is where you really need to consider the specifics of your case.

Also, let me pose the question in a different way: does the way you play chess cause you problems? Do you play it in a way that most people would consider excessive or unreasonable? Does it cause you problems in other areas of your life, such as work or personal relationships? If you answer "yes" to either of these, you should discuss with your psychologist whether you're playing in a way that's compulsive; otherwise, if you've discussed it with your psychologist and neither of those hold, I wouldn't worry too much about it - just make sure that you're being honest with your psychologist about whether or not those are the case.

Also, dopamine plays a role in any pleasurable activity, so personally I find the "dopamine argument" overly simplistic. Dopamine is involved in drug use because, at risk of oversimplifying things myself, addicts like taking drugs and alcohol. If there was no sense in which taking these substances was either positively or negatively reinforcing, no one would take them. (See, for comparison, the original brain simulation reward research, which helped to establish the biological mechanisms for addiction).

One more aspect of this that I would like to point out: besides the cognitive aspects of this, if you enjoy chess, it provides you with something to do other than drugs and alcohol, and a chess club can provide a social outlet that's a more positive influence in your life than spending time with people that are actively drinking or using.


Congratulations on your 9 months of recovery, @Universal_learner! I'm grateful for over 30 years of recovery, primarily from cannabis but alcohol as well. The years have flown by faster than I could have imagined.

One thing that I've learned is that recovery from addiction is not just a matter of abstaining from unhealthy habits. It's also a matter of replacing the unhealthy habits with healthy ones. My experience is supported by neuroscience and the concept of neural pathways.

Your explicit questions are understandably generalized, but I believe how it affects you personally is what's truly important here. The answers to your questions aren't black and white. Treatment centers have to set rules in order for them to function successfully. Ultimately the decision is between you and your higher power. (For those unfamiliar with the 12-step concept of a higher power, I believe it's widely misunderstood. It can also be explained from a neurobiological perspective.)

Clearly you've made a distinction in separating what you believe to be unhealthy addictive chess versus chess that enables you to engage socially without drugs and alcohol. It sounds like you're sincerely trying to check and make sure you're being honest with yourself. IMHO, just keep doing that, with the support of your therapist and higher power.

In early recovery, I would make difficult decisions by asking my higher power and myself which decision felt like it was most supportive of my sobriety versus leading to relapse. Over the years that question has evolved into seeking spiritual guidance to do the next right thing. That guidance this evening was to answer your question, and that answer was different than I expected!

Best wishes to you on your journey, @Universal_learner! May you answer a question like this 30 years from now, one day at a time!


Anything you can find that keeps you sober is a great activity and since the relapse rate is so high ignore anybody who thinks they got sobriety figured out if they did they would be an instant celebrity and could name their price on consultation. If you find that playing keeps you from obsessing on your former life then dive on in. The first year is probably the hardest so I would keep a journal and document your journey. When you are successful perhaps even publish your recipe so others may follow.


Yes, of course.

Any game - any activity - that depends on continued application of the powers of the mind should help recovering addicts.

Unless no games are good, how could chess not be?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Brian Towers
    Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 16:39

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