WHO Video Game Addiction: Why Playing Video Games Too Much Could Harm Mental Health

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/22/2020

Playing video games is a fun activity either by yourself or with a friend. When the concept hit the market years ago, it was seen as a revolutionary way of playing games. Today, there are so many types of games to play across different platforms. Some are educational, while others are suitable for mature audiences based on the content. But over the years, playing digital and video games has raised concerns about how it affects mental health. According to the World Health Organization, gaming has potential risks to mental health, including developing negative play behaviors that could lead to a gaming disorder.

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What Is The Connection Between Video Games And Mental Health?

Studies have shown video games may pose profound effects on mental health with negative consequences. In some cases, it may depend on the type of game played and the duration of play. It may also depend on how often a person engages in play. Studies look at how people's moods are affected by video gaming. Some may feel angry, anxious, or depressed when playing. Playing games excessively could negatively affect emotional health and social relationships. Sometimes people use video gaming as a way of coping with negative thoughts and behaviors such as low self-esteem, poor job or academic performance, and loneliness.

Video gaming does have positive aspects when played in moderation. Experts don't think they cause mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, if a person has mental health concerns, video gaming could make their symptoms worse, with some being susceptible to developing a video game disorder. It is essential to understand how to play video games without putting your mental health at risk. Sometimes people don't realize how playing digital and video games excessively could sacrifice your emotional well-being.

A reason for concern about how video games affect the brain includes results from a previous study. It looks at how video games affect parts of the brain responsible for creating negative emotions. Playing games help suppress hurtful emotions created in a specific area of the brain. It is what gives you the feeling of escape during play.

Many people who play video games use it to get away from what is happening around them. It helps take your mind off of things that made you feel uncomfortable, such as being bullied. Playing games is a way to escape unwanted feelings. A person playing video games uses this time to immerse themselves in another world to avoid emotional pain. When our emotions are suppressed, it makes learning from them more challenging.

People may continue playing video games even while they are emotionally hurting. They may not realize their gaming habit is contributing to their pain and even making daily living worse. At this point, a person may think they are lazy and not see a reason to stop playing or not understand why they can't quit.

What Happens When Gaming Is A Disorder?

When gaming becomes a disorder, a person may not recognize they have a problem. When a person is addicted to playing games, they play based on compulsive behavior. People can get hooked playing because they don't have control of how often they play. The concept is a problem among young people, including children and teenagers. In adults, it may be referred to as internet addiction or computer addiction.

Video games have different platforms that you can play on. You can play on the computer, cell phone, arcade machine, or gaming console. Playing through social media platforms is also popular, allowing you to play and share progress with friends. Research is still ongoing to understand their mental health effects, but some suggest they could increase aggressiveness in people while increasing addiction risk. There are additional factors to explore why this could be harmful to your mental health.

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Different organizations recognize the addiction of video gameplay differently. For example, per the World Health Organization, gaming disorder is defined as a medical condition that a healthcare professional can diagnose and treat. While there are different ways to measure an addiction, experts say how an individual uses gaming helps determine the extent of addictive behavior. It is unlikely to be considered as harmful as a recreational activity, but it helps to understand the difference between recreational vs. excessive playing.

When the activity is considered addictive, it becomes the main activity a person uses to cope with emotions and events in their life. People consume so much of their time playing that essential tasks, responsibilities, and priorities get neglected. The addiction disrupts daily routines and makes confronting emotions more difficult.

Overusing video games often occurs among multiplayer gaming options. Such forms of play offer a wide variety of ways to stay engaged, such as competitiveness, social interaction, and real-time play. Because of how multiplayer gaming options are designed, they tend to increase the risk of negatively impacting emotional, physical, and mental health. For example, people who play excessively may not get enough sleep, display poor academic or job performance, and show noticeable changes in their mood behaviors.

Can You Really Get Addicted To Playing Games?

Per the definition as a medical condition by WHO, gaming disorder may be argued by some as a form of a behavioral disorder. Some may not see the concept as something serious, but because there could be disturbing effects to youth players, research has led to labeling related behaviors as an addiction. Long-term research is needed to understand the different extent of this type of addiction.

People have mixed concerns about video gaming for valid reasons. Medical experts feel playing such games excessively could be harmful. However, health experts' concerns compete against how digital and video games are advertised to the masses. People see advertisements and want to play the game, but experts in the gaming industry may not highlight possible risks or effects from excessive playing. Consumers may also be confused about gaming addiction when organizations present variations in how they define such habits.

There are aspects of gaming addiction that make it similar to other types of addiction behavior. The amount of time spent playing and the level of emotional attachment stand out when comparing similar addiction behaviors. Some gaming addicts experience social struggles due to playing more often, especially when feeling isolated. When an addiction of any kind overwhelms a person, it hurts relationships and disrupts life in many ways. Gamers may want to play more and more, regardless of how much time they spend playing.

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How Does Playing Contribute To Mental Health Concerns

Mental health experts have found harmful effects in players who play excessively, such as aggressiveness, increased risk of physical or mental disorders, and limited social activity, including interactions and cooperative behaviors. In some cases, a person with a gaming addiction may have a reduced ability to control impulses along with having poorer mental health. Some experience an increase in emotional concerns, such as dealing with anxiety, depression, and social isolation. A few may even have problems using internet porn.

What You Should Know About Video Gaming And Mental Health

If you suspect that you or someone you know may have a gaming problem, it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms. People may lack control of their play habits, view playing games as more important than priorities, and keep playing while knowing there are risks. A person's family, social, personal, work, and education areas of life may experience severe repercussions. Sometimes it co-occurs with other mood disorders like anxiety, depression, or stress. A person may develop other health risks from too much gaming, including weight and sleep problems.

A diagnosis of the condition may include answering questions related to your play experiences and personal life. The information you provide is compared to a scale designed to measure the likelihood of addiction. Treatment for disorders and addictions for gaming includes abstaining, limit setting, talk therapy, and support groups. Most people benefit from a mix of treatment options. Since the concept of gaming addiction is new, there is no defined treatment method, but treatment options previously used to treat other forms of addiction have shown promise.

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Useful treatment options include family intervention, psychoeducation, making lifestyle changes, treating feelings or impulses related to playing to control urges, and confronting irrational thinking. People can also learn interpersonal skills to encourage assertiveness and improve communication skills. Depending on your situation, other forms of support may be included in your treatment plan. You may be recommended to find other activities besides gaming to encourage personal skill development. If symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness is a concern, treatment may be recommended.

Playing video games for recreational purposes can have positive effects on your mental health. While playing video games doesn't cause immediate concerns, it is vital to recognize gaming addiction and know what actions are necessary to address it.

Playing video games for recreational purposes may present positive effects on mental health. While playing video games doesn't cause immediate concerns, it is vital to recognize gaming addiction and know what actions are necessary to address it.