Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
If you find yourself constantly playing video games, ignoring your responsibilities, and finding yourself in trouble due to your playing habits, you may be addicted to video games. Recently, the World Health Organization classified video game addiction as a mental health disorder. So when should you start paying attention to your spiraling pattern of behavior, wanting to play at all times of the day? You want to look for what doctors call “significant impairment” – in all kinds of normal functioning. When diagnosing video game addiction, doctors will consider whether your relationships or performance (at work or school) are suffering from all the time spent on video games. Some of these problems may be short-term. But, if they have lasted for 12 months or more, addiction is likely at play.
Even though video game addiction has only been recognized recently, it has been an issue for some time. This has led to the development of several different video game addiction treatments that help turn things around.
How To Recognize Video Game Addiction
While addiction may present itself differently for individuals, there are common things to watch out for that can help you recognize that it’s time to get help for video game addiction. Some things to keep an eye out for include:
- Finding yourself thinking about particular game scenes, details, game aspects, difficulty levels, and everything else in between
- Experiencing a deep desire to play and wish you were able to play even when you should be dedicated to and focusing something else
- Struggling to reduce the time spent playing, let alone quitting and moving with other responsibilities and activities
- Playing to simply feel good
- Losing interest in everything else, including those things you previously enjoyed
- Having problems in school, at work, or even with basic life functions at home
- Continuing to play video games as if nothing has happened despite the problems intensifying
- Playing more when you’re in trouble, not feeling good about life, or feeling depressed
- Lying to those closest to you about how much time and energy is going into video games
Video game addiction, characterized by these behaviors, is seen more prevalently in males than females. However, it’s important to realize that simply playing video games for long periods does not automatically make you an addict. It is possible to be genuinely enthusiastic about playing without crossing into the territory of addiction. Experts believe that, in reality, the actual number of people who can be genuinely called video game addicts is quite small. It is even argued that the number of people with video game addiction is in the single digits among all gamers, including children and adults.
Getting Help With Video Game Addiction Treatment
Video game addiction is not a major problem for most people. Still, if you find yourself concerned about your behavior or your loved one’s behavior, you may want to seek help. While there are several different treatment options available for video game addiction, a good starting place is to talk to your physician (or your child’s pediatrician) about your concerns. They will often recommend going for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is more commonly known as counseling.
The goal of working with a licensed counselor is to teach the individual to gain power over their habits. Often this will involve teaching a new pattern of thinking and putting that thinking into action. For example, certain problems related to gaming can be replaced with responsibilities. Of course, this can be easily managed if it is a child addicted to video games. In this case, the parent or the guardian can set hard limits on how much the child can access video games by reducing the child’s screen time. For this reason, such therapy often involves a person in authority or someone who can provide some oversight. While this is not necessary, the results are likely to be easier to control for both children and adults with third-party help.
In addition to counseling, video game addiction treatment can be enhanced by:
- Making an effort to stay informed about screen and video game usage. If gaming is being done on the phone, several built-in features promote digital well-being and monitor usage.
- Finding beneficial screen interaction in the form of learning apps and educational programs. Focus on using apps that promote learning a new skill rather than a game. For example, video games can help you learn a new language, learn how to play an instrument, learn to code, etc.
- Increase oversight. If it is your child who is suffering from video game addiction, carefully observe your child. This is especially true for vulnerable children who may be suffering from an attention deficit disorder already. For adults, this could mean finding an accountability partner to share your digital well-being trackers with.
Structuring video game usage away from important life functions, including mealtimes, times just after waking up, before going to bed, social activities, etc. can help combat video game addiction.
Preventing Problems Associated With Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction creates and intensifies many problems. This is why many video game addiction treatments focus on preventing the problems associated with computer games addiction. To prevent such problems:
- Act before the problem gets out of hand. This is especially true for children. Parents, guardians, and caretakers need to step in before it becomes a bigger issue. This means setting hard limits for video game access, and the schedule should strictly follow the guideline.
- Many experts recommend that electronic gadgets, including smartphones, be kept out of the no-nonsense zones. For most people, this means keeping devices out of the bedroom, study rooms, the dining area, etc.
- Make sure physical activities are a priority. Even with a busy schedule, it is important to regularly carve out time for physical activity, even if it’s not daily. It doesn’t have to be boring exercise routines. Opting for a short sprint over to a favorite hangout, taking the stairs, or parking at the far end of the lot work just as well. This, of course, has an added advantage as well: mitigating health complications associated with sitting and playing for long hours.
There’s Still More To Understand
When it comes to video game addiction treatment, there’s still more to figure out. This is because research still hasn’t given us all the answers. For example, we do not know which company makes the most addictive games or even what games should be considered the most addictive. Along these lines, the maximum that you can do is ensure your child is playing games that are OK for their age level. Like movies, most games have a rating system to indicate the age group it targets. However, it is important to always be vigilant, as there may be some games that you may not find personally appropriate.
How Bad Is Gaming Addiction?
The answer in short: extremely bad, similar to any addiction. That is because one thing leads to another. Before the individual realizes, they’re in a situation where it’s quite difficult for them to repair and revert the damage they have caused around themselves. Here’s what the research has to say:
- A recent study out of China reveals it’s young adults who are video game addicts. Participants of the study demonstrate smaller volumes of both white and gray brain matter, as opposed to their counterparts who do not report gaming addiction. Of course, lower volumes directly imply trouble with decision-making, lack of emotional regulation, and a decreased ability to control impulses.
- Another research study revealed that gaming addiction leads to irregular sleep patterns, trouble with mood and mentality, as well as difficulty with social learning in adolescents.
- Researchers are also discovering how the mind, the body, and the relationship between them are impacted the more we give in to video games. The logic is that as we engage in gameplay, the brain starts receiving sensory input that is otherwise associated with extreme danger and harm. The problem is, there is no stopping a reaction on behalf of the brain. Haven’t we all seen players so engrossed in video games that they exhibit strong real-world emotions while playing their games. You could catch them crying, laughing in joy, or even threatened and in stress with whatever may be going on their screens—kind of how you and I may react to an accident in slow motion. The damage comes when the brain reacts and directs the systems in our body to act a certain way.
- Other researchers identify the state of hyperarousal, which is another name for the fight or flight response, that does not wind down when playing video games. Now this state of hyperarousal goes on to impact all of us in different ways. Most commonly, we won’t be able to pay attention to the task at hand, manage emotions, lack satisfaction, and even be irritable with real life. This often results in depression and blood sugar levels going haywire as a response to the emotional mismanagement. In fact, video game addicts share some of their symptoms with people suffering from chronic stress.
Getting Treatment Can Help
We must remember that there is nothing good or bad. You can be enthusiastic about playing video games without being addicted. However, when it crosses a line where you begin ignoring responsibilities, it becomes problematic, and you are likely addicted. If you think you, or one of your loved ones, are addicted to video games, this free test can help you determine whether it is time to get help.