Video games are a common entertainment option in households throughout the country. Unfortunately, as video games advance in technology and children and adults alike become more and more interested in playing these games, the risk for excessive use that leads to negative consequences is ever increasing. Video game addiction is a relatively recent problem, but despite the fact that this problem has not been of major concern for very long, the truth is, video game addiction can have just as many negative effects as any drug or alcohol addiction if left untreated.
Gaming has grown into a multibillion dollar industry that attracts billions of children and adults who are looking for the thrill and action that comes with playing a game either online, on a handheld device or on the television. Because gaming is so intricate and involved, many have become concerned about the long term effects of video game playing can have, especially on children but also on adults as well.
What is Video Game Addiction?
Compulsive video game addiction is a modern-day psychological disorder that is becoming more and more popular and thus more and more a problem. Young people, teens, young adults and even older adults have become increasingly overly hooked on video games and as a result of this video game addiction have lacked on important priorities such as caring for themselves, performing school or home work or socializing with others. Some studies suggest that gaming is absolutely taking over the minds of children all together. According to the US National Library of Medicine, gaming addiction is a behavioral problem that is described by a preoccupation with gaming, the ability of gaming to modify a person’s mood, the development of tolerance, the presence of withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of gaming, and the development of interpersonal conflict because of gaming.
Video game addiction is characterized by the following signs:
- Aggression toward video games (getting stuck in a realm where you think that the games are real or have a real impact on life)
- Playing video games rather than socializing with friends or family members
- Playing video games instead of playing outside or playing with toys
- Playing video games for a prolonged period of time, throwing tantrums if not allowed to play video games
- Playing video games for more than 6 hours per week
- Spending the majority of leisure time playing video games
- Showing signs of anxiety when anticipating a new game or the ability to play a game
Defining the Video Game Addiction
Most addictions, such as substance abuse addictions have a set ability to be defined based on use of a substance alone. Unfortunately, video game addiction cannot be defined quite so easily. It can take more than just insight into one’s ability or enthusiasm in a video game to define it as an addiction. A true video game addiction is a compulsive disorder, a clinical impulse to play a video game. Psychiatrist Michael Brody defines video game addiction as:
- A need for the person to play the game or take part in gaming behavior more and more (tolerance)
- Irritability or miserableness related to not getting the video game action one desires
These signs are really no different than those present with a substance abuse addiction and in may ways, compulsive video gaming can be treated using similar methods that are used to treat substance abuse. Compulsive gaming not only has many of the same signs as substance abuse addictions or problems, it also has many withdrawal symptoms or stages that come when the addict stops playing video games such as insomnia, anger, violent behaviors and other disorders most of which are treatable with time and therapy. According to the National Academic Advising Association, an excessive gaming problem becomes an addiction when it is used to change a person’s mood.
Could my Teen be Addicted to Video Games?
Many questions surround video game addiction. How much time is too much to spend online or playing a video game? What actions are more prevalent to signify a video game addiction over others? All of these questions and the subsequent answers will be different from one individual to the next. Some can play video games for hours one day followed by long periods of not playing while others find themselves essentially glued to the gaming system from sun up until sun down.
Recognizing Signs of Video Game Addiction in Teens:
- Your teen only feels happy when gaming. If you recognize that your teen is not happy unless they are playing a game, they could have a problem.
- Distracted by video games. If your teen seems to be distracted by games, “hey mom, can I play…when I get home,” or does not seem to think about anything but video games there could be a problem.
- Spending more time playing games than socializing. If your teen chooses to stay home and play video games rather than socialize or spend time with friends this could be a sure sign of video game addiction.
- You catch the teen playing video games when they are not supposed to be. If the teen is placed on video game restriction, should be doing homework or is otherwise not supposed to be playing video games and you find that they are there could be a video game addiction problem.
Harmful Effects of Video Game Addiction
Just like any other addiction, video game addiction or gaming addictions do have many harmful effects. Not only do video game addictions prevent kids and adults from spending quality time with their loved ones or with friends of their age to gain social skills, many other adverse effects can result from a video game addiction.
Some of the harmful effects of video game addiction include:
- Increased risk of ADD or ADHD due to the highly interactivity of video games
- Learning disabilities that result from slowed responses versus the intense video games
- Increased risk of light-induced seizures from video games
- Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities from sitting for prolonged periods of time or from only using the upper body (extremity muscles)
- Increased weight gain as a result of not exercising
- Lowered metabolism
- Aggressive thoughts and behaviors especially present in children who excessively play video games when they are under 10 years old
- Poor social interaction
- Poor cooperative interaction (everything has to be about winning)
Video games are a complex, detailed and compelling interactive activity. When play properly, with moderation, there is little chance that a video game will cause addiction or adverse health reactions. However, when gaming is taken to the extreme and limitations are placed on the level of interaction an individual has with others, a problem and the potential need for treatment arises.
A report from Bryn Mawr College shows the possibility that an addiction to video games can lead to aggressive behavior, especially in children, though it does mention that the causality of that relationship is unclear.
How Parents Can Control or Limit Risk of Gaming Addiction
Many steps can be taken to control a child or teen’s access to video games. These steps can help to limit the risk that appears when an individual plays video games. For instance, many games are intelligent and imaginative and these games tend to be more educational and appropriate for younger children. Additionally, even games that are educational should be limited and restrictions should be placed on the number of hours a child may play a game, the number of game play days each week and other aspects.
Some steps you can take to prevent video game addiction in your child or teen include:
- Limiting time to one hour or less per day. Just like television, video games should not consume a child’s fun time. Place a limitation on the amount of time that a child may play a video game down to one hour per day. After one hour, a break should be taken and active play ensued.
- Keep track of game playing time. You should keep careful track of the amount of time that your child does play on the video game and also pay close attention to the times when the child is playing. By keeping a video game log, you may realize that your child plays games more often when they are bored, sad, depressed or in another state of mind.
- Pay attention to problems that result from the gaming. If you notice that a certain game causes your child to react poorly, have a negative attitude or otherwise show signs of problems when playing the game, consider taking their privilege of playing that particular game away.
- Tantrums after time limits. If your child has temper tantrums, shows signs of anger or depression after their video game time limit is up, consider placing even stricter limitations on their use.
Treatment for Video Game Addiction
Many methods of treatment can be found to help those who are addicted to video games to stop the cycle of gaming and get on the right track to social and emotional recovery. Because many video game addictions are the result of an inept social being or the result of masking emotions, most treatment methods revolve around helping the teen, child or adult to become more social, overcome negative emotions and reduce boredom by finding more productive things to do. In many ways, treatment for video game addiction is treated that same way as the treatment for any other addiction such as a substance abuse problem or a alcoholism.
Counseling is common in the treatment of video game addiction and provides a foundation for recovery success. Through various methods of counseling – inpatient and outpatient, the patient is able to learn how to cope with their stress and the triggers that would normally cause them to use video games as an escape.
The methods that are taught will largely depend on the patient and their individual needs but may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy to re-train the thought process from thinking about video games into thinking about more productive thoughts such as playing outside, calling a friend or fulfilling boredom in another way
- Trust building methods to help those who are socially inept to rebuild trust in others so that they can feel comfortable building new relationships
- Wilderness retreats to keep users away from technology. These retreats can be highly effective because they completely eliminate all instances of technology which could lead to relapse
In addition to these methods, a study published in the US National Library of Medicine showed the potential effectiveness of a drug called Bupropion for treating gaming addiction.
Dual Diagnosis and Video Game Addiction
As with any addiction, dual diagnosis is a common problem. Many people who suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol, or even to video games, also suffer from one or more mental illnesses. The combination of both mental illness and addiction leads to what is known as dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis is difficult to treat because there must be treatment provided for both the mental health condition and for the addiction at the same time. Treating just one or another will not lead to a full recovery.
Many treatment centers are prepared to offer treatment for dual diagnosis by providing medical care and therapy for the underlying mental illness such as anxiety, depression or other mental illness as well as therapeutic care and detox for addictions. Many video game addictions are the result of anxiety, depression or a similar mental health condition that makes it difficult for the child to interact socially. Treatment centers can help alleviate this anxiety and teach the child to interact on a social level with other children who are of a similar age.
According to the University of Missouri, dual-diagnosis is common in cases where individuals are addicted to video games as the risk factors contributing to the disorder are most often social escapism and virtual social interaction. These contribute to and result from different forms of anxiety and other mental health problems.
Intervention Methods to Treat Gaming Addiction
Many methods exist to intervene when a game addiction is at hand.
The most common methods of intervention for the treatment of video game addiction include:
- Individual therapy with a psychological counselor – CBT is the recommended form of therapy for obsessive gaming but there are other therapeutic methods that could work as well. Select a psychologist who is experienced in providing treatment for gaming addiction, internet addiction or similar compulsions for the best results
- Family therapy with a counselor – often times, video game addiction is the result of a lack of family time or a lack of interaction at home. Family problems can arise and this may lead to increased video game use. Family therapy can lead to increased relationships that are healthy within the family
- Inpatient Treatment – most of the time inpatient treatment is more of a last resort method for video game addiction but in some cases, this method is necessary. These treatment options involve extended stays on-site for the gamer where they have no access to such technology and can learn new behaviors and ways of coping with stress, boredom, trauma, anxiety, depression or other potential triggers that led to their addiction.
- Wilderness therapy – this method of video game addiction treatment involved placing the individual in a group setting outdoors for a period of usually a few weeks to a month. There are no high tech items and no video games. The focus is on providing methods of developing self-confidence, setting new and productive life goals, and connecting with others in meaningful ways that can lead to long lasting friendships
- Educational Books – there are many education resources such as books and online reading that can help those who are addicted to video games to find ways of coping without turning to the gaming unit for help. These self-help books and online intervention programs can provide a beneficial support and backup system especially when combined with other methods of treatment.