Playing video games is one of the most popular leisure activities in the world. While most individuals who play video games will do so in moderation and without consequence, it should be no surprise that in today’s vastly accelerating digital age video game addiction is on the rise. Studies estimate that up to 15% of gamers have compulsive gaming addiction issues, and up to 1% of gamers fit the criteria for video game addiction. Despite much debate over the growing body of research in the addiction field with respect to video games, Internet Gaming Disorder was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a disorder needing further research in 2013, and Gaming Disorder was officially recognized by the World Health Organization in 2018.
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Video games have been in high demand since the early 1990’s and since then the video game industry has grown at an exponential rate. Technology companies across the world are investing massive amounts of money in the growth of various games, platforms, devices, and technologies. Many industry leaders are betting on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality to emerge as a dominant trend, and believe that the metaverse will overtake the gaming industry.
One of the critical differences from the early 1990’s to now is that gaming is not contained to the traditional gaming console or even the PC, as players now have the option of going from television screens or computer screens to handheld gaming consoles, and more importantly to having access to video games 24/7 via smartphones directly in their pocket. Easy access breeds addictive behavior. Furthermore, gaming can be relatively easy to hide from loved ones, peers, or superiors in work settings or schools as devious activity can be going on behind any screen and appear as though an individual is engaged in a work-related activity.
Before moving on, it is also important to acknowledge that video games are not all bad. Contrary to many misconceptions about video games, they are not all violent, sexist, isolating, or a waste of time. Video games can offer players a healthy way to relax, to socialize, enhance cognitive skills and reflexes, develop character, improve creativity, add to emotional competence, among other benefits. Video games can also be used for educational, career, or even therapeutic purposes. Moderate frequency and duration of video game usage has not been proven to have any serious acute adverse effects. As with many things in life, video games have both positive and negative characteristics, but when played in excess can become problematic and destructive.
What Is Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction involves the uncontrolled use of video games or gaming related activities despite negative consequences. Individuals with a video game addiction have a preoccupation, obsession and compulsion to play video games to the point where the person’s day-to-day life becomes impaired. Individuals with a video game addiction will continue to game even when they know it is causing them problems in areas of their lives. Consequences include but are not limited to educational or career problems, mental health or physical health issues, relationships, personal hygiene, sleep, failure to perform responsibilities, and other such considerations. Video game addiction falls on a spectrum from mild to severe, and can also be referred to as problematic gaming (any gaming that results in a life problem) or binge gaming (when excessive gaming is isolated to certain periods of time be it weekends or months apart).
It is not only video game usage that has been increasing and problematic, but gaming viewership as well. Many tune into YouTube, Twitch, Tik Tok live, and other platforms to watch others play video games for hours on end. Gaming content creation and viewership is also on the rise, with many glued to their digital devices watching videos of individuals playing games, explaining games or gaming hacks, and other such video game related content.
Gaming has also become competitive, with the rise of eSports and combat games. In some instances, this has also resulted in placing bets on teams or players. For some, gambling has become a way to increase the excitement that video games already bring. As such, some individuals with a gaming problem may also end up having a coinciding gambling problem as well.
For more information on eSports addiction and the rise of cross-addiction between video games and gambling please read “Are eSports The Next Addiction Epidemic?”
Why Do People Get Addicted to Video Games?
Video game addiction centers in the brain as changes in the brain’s structure and function cause cravings, changes in mood, and changes in behavior. Video games are highly addictive as a result of enhancing the release of pleasurable neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Every time a gamer moves forward within the game be it with a kill in a shooting game, a point in a sports game, beating a level, attaining a reward, or other such victory, the brain releases feelings of pleasure that the individual begins to crave. Eventually this can leave individuals gaming compulsively and reliant on digital stimulation to induce pleasure.
As with all addictions, video game addiction is a multifaceted issue. Beyond the brain, video games are designed to entice people to play them, and play them endlessly. In other words, the developers have a key goal of designing the game to be as addictive as possible. They mut be challenging enough to keep players engaged but not too challenging so as players give up. While players feel they are working towards an end-point and goal, many games can be played indefinitely.
There is also excitement and thrill built into video games coupled with visually captivating and exciting graphics. Psychological factors are also considered, such as showing a high-score that players are then inclined to attempt to beat. Psychological factors also include allowing players to feel a sense of pride, confidence, respect or control that they don’t experience in real life. There are also social factors in games that can be played with others, making the gamers feel less lonely, a sense of belonging and part of a group.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction?
Anyone who plays video games is susceptible to video game addiction, but those with a history of addiction in their families are more likely to develop an addiction than those who do not have a history of addiction, be it with alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any other behavioral addiction. Those with easy access to video games and/or those who have friends or family members constantly playing video games may also be more at risk. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or ADHD can also make some more susceptible to developing a problem with video games, as well as a history of other addictive behaviors.
There are also demographic factors to consider. For example, YouGov surveys have found that of those who play more than 20-hours of video games per week, 77% of them were male compared to 23% who identified as female. 65% of those who played more than 20-hours per week were ages 18-45.
Those who have a problematic relationship with gaming are likely to progress in their addiction without an intervention of some kind. As such, it is important to recognize signs and symptoms of gaming addiction in order to address the issue immediately before it gets worse.
Specifically, some signs and symptoms of video game addiction may include:
- Unsuccessful attempts at stopping or moderating video game usage.
- Thinking about gaming when you are not playing video games (preoccupation).
- Feeling guilty, shameful or regret about behaviors associated with gaming.
- Spending more money or time playing video games than intended.
- Requiring more time gaming to satisfy the desire to game or to receive the same pleasurable effect as from earlier periods of gaming (tolerance).
- Hiding your gaming from loved ones, colleagues, or superiors.
- Gaming to escape real life problems.
- Lying, stealing, or engaging in other manipulative or immoral behavior to play video games.
- Spending money on video games or devices instead of responsibilities such as food or bills.
- Difficulty concentrating on important activities such as work or school as a result of video games.
- Loss of interest in non-related gaming activities, especially ones that you used to find enjoyable.
- Experiencing negative mental health or physical health effects when not gaming such as sadness, anxiety, or irritability (withdrawal).
- Neglecting personal hygiene or physical and mental health at the expense of video games.
- Difficulty relaxing or sleeping due to video games.
What Is The Impact of Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction has a host of negative consequences that can result from excessive gaming. Every individual is unique, and every gaming disorder can range on a spectrum of its severity. As such, the impact of video game addiction will vary widely from person to person. Some common risks posed by excessive gaming include but are not limited to:
- Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, irritability, ADHD, and others.
- Physical health issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back or neck aches, wrist pain, headaches, or dry eyes, as well as seizures and malnourishment.
- Relational issues as a result of isolation, deteriorating communication, and lack of social engagement.
- Health concerns as a result of promoting an indoor sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise that can result in weight gain and obesity, poor posture, vitamin D deficiency, or increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Problems with concentration and attention as a result of rapid and fast-paced movements on digital screens.
- Avoidance of life responsibilities resulting in educational or career problems and other life issues.
- Evasion of emotions resulting in poor coping skills.
- Increased aggression or violence either as a result of playing violent video games or due to anger and agitation that results from disconnecting from video games.
What Is The Treatment For Video Game Addiction?
While more research is needed in the field of video game addiction and subsequent treatments, gaming addiction is commonly treated with behavioral modification therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This method of treatment helps individuals deal with obsessive, negative and destructive thought patterns and feelings that impact their behavior.
Holistic methods can also be incorporated into treatment to help the entire person heal both physically and psychologically. Holistic methods may include an emphasis on nutrition, physical activity, meditation, yoga, reiki, sound therapy, hypnotherapy, breathwork, and experiential therapy or nature therapy to name a few. There is also an emphasis on building life skills and incorporating structure and routine into the lives of those in recovery.
Individuals with a gaming addiction who have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or other psychiatric conditions may require medication therapy.
Depending on the severity of the video game addiction, individuals may be treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient treatment offers 24-hour live-in care in a structured and supervised environment while outpatient treatment offers individuals services while they live in their home and even can engage in educational or career activities.
Furthermore, depending on the severity of the addiction and the goals of the individual in collaboration with their addiction specialist, there are abstinence-based approaches as well as moderation management approaches to treating gaming disorder. Moderation management approaches often have a period of abstinence at the onset of treatment.
Video game addiction is most commonly treated by a mental health professional such as a licensed therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist specializing in video game addiction. Some individuals may choose to receive support from a video game addiction specialist such as a video game addiction recovery coach. Wilderness therapies have also become an appealing alternative to conventional addiction treatment settings.
What Can I Do If I Have A Video Game Addiction?
With an awareness that video games are problematic for you and a desire to change there are certain steps you can take to abstain from video games or moderate video game usage. Practical steps may include:
- Developing a healthy daily structure and routine that you can implement and follow.
- Deleting video games from your mobile device and computer. This includes social media or websites that may serve as a trigger for thoughts about gaming.
- Allowing a trusted loved one to monitor or oversee digital usage via screen time applications.
- Setting certain days or hours of the day for gaming and sticking to your schedule.
- Postponing the urge to play video games.
- Developing healthy coping skills including but not limited to nutrition, exercise, and meditation.
- Engaging in hobbies and leisure activities including spending time outside and socializing.
- Placing digital devices out of the bedroom and in the presence of a supportive loved one.
- Finding support from loved ones and/or joining a mutual help group such as SMART Recovery or Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous or On-Line Gamers Anonymous.
- Be mindful of developing alternative unhealthy coping mechanisms such as gambling, alcohol or drug use, and overeating.
If video game usage is excessive and causing impairment, and if individuals are unable to moderate or abstain from video games on their own, professional help from a video game addiction specialist is recommended.
What Role Does Family and Friends Play In Video Game Addiction Recovery?
Family and friends can play a critical role in the recovery of their loved ones. It is important for family and friends to engage in their own self-care or method of treatment so that they do not become overwhelmed or burned out with their loved one’s problematic behavior, and learn to set healthy boundaries so that they refrain from co-dependent or enabling behaviors. Family and friends should also learn to communicate effectively and listen to their loved one’s needs or concerns. Family therapy or family coaching for video game addiction can be very helpful, especially in early recovery or even during active addiction.
Family and friends who want to play a role in their loved ones recovery from problematic gaming should also take some time to learn about the nature of video game addiction (example: how addiction affects the brain), signs of video game addiction (example: poor school performance or neglecting hobbies, friendships, or other activities), and methods of treatment (example: behavioral therapy or mutual help groups). Family and friends should also learn about moderation versus abstinence based approaches of video game addiction recovery, as well as the definition of relapse and what they should do to address a relapse.
For more information on video game addiction and recovery please read Family Addiction Specialist’s Digital Addiction and Gaming Recovery service page.
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