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Video games are a great source of entertainment and can be associated with positive health benefits including improved vision, creativity, and cognition when played in moderation. But gaming can become problematic when it starts being prioritized over your relationships, career and obligations.
Video game addiction, also known as gaming disorder, is a behavioral addiction that can spiral out of control and cause serious problems with your overall health and well-being when left untreated.
What is Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction is the repetitive, prolonged, compulsive playing of video games to the point where the person playing is unable to stop or reduce their gaming despite related negative consequences. A person may be diagnosed with video game addiction when their gaming behavior is severe enough to impair their career and education, family and social lives, and other important life areas for at least 12 months.
Not everyone who plays video games for extended periods is necessarily at risk for gaming addiction. However, those who do play video games should remain aware of the amount of time they’re spending on gaming to prevent their behavior from cutting into other activities and important obligations. Gamers should also stay aware of any adverse changes in their health and social functioning that may be caused by gaming so they can get professional help when needed, or take the appropriate steps to cut back on gameplay and prevent the onset of serious negative consequences.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction?
Those who suffer from video game addiction tend to prioritize video games above all other activities, tasks and obligations, including personal hygiene, their job, their family, and education. Video game addiction shares many of the same traits, signs, and symptoms of other behavioral addictions, and can worsen the state of your physical, emotional, and psychological health.
A person can be diagnosed with video game addiction if they meet any of the following symptoms:
- Preoccupation with playing video games, such as thinking or obsessing about previous gaming sessions or future gaming sessions
- Feeling the urge to play video games for longer periods of time to achieve euphoria and satisfaction
- Being unable to control, reduce, or stop the act of playing video games
- Feeling moody, restless, depressed, or irritable when trying to reduce or stop gaming
- Playing video games for longer than originally intended
- Having jeopardized or risked your job, education, or a significant relationship due to gaming
- Lying to friends, family, and therapists surrounding your video gaming activity
- Playing video games to escape problems or to relieve negative feelings of guilt, helplessness, anxiety, or depression
- Feeling a heightened sense of euphoria when playing video games
- Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities so you can play video games
- Ignoring or neglecting friends and family to play video games
- Neglecting sleep so you can play video games
- Gaining or losing weight
- Back or neck pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Other signs of video game addiction include being constantly distracted by video games, only feeling happy when gaming, and spending more time gaming than socializing and interacting with friends and family. If you or your loved one is showing signs of video game addiction, getting professional help today can prevent this behavioral addiction from worsening and affecting other important life areas.
Harmful Effects of Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction offers a number of harmful effects for your physical, psychological, and emotional health, and can cause lasting damage to your social life, friendships, and relationships with partners, spouses, and other family members. Video game addiction has been linked to depression, ADHD, and OCD. Gaming addiction also has its own set of withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, anger, and violent behavior when gaming is stopped abruptly.
Some of the harmful effects of video game addiction include:
- Increased risk for ADD or ADHD
- Learning disabilities that result from slowed responses after playing intense games
- Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper extremities from sitting for long periods of time or from only using the upper body
- Lowered metabolism from lack of physical activity or poor nutrition
- Weight gain due to lack of exercise and sitting for long periods of time
- Weight loss due to skipping meals while playing video games
- Poor social skills and interactions
- Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and OCD
Video games can be a complex, detailed, and compelling interactive activity. When played responsibly and in moderation, there is little chance that video games will lead to adverse health reactions or addiction. But when gaming gets out of control, and there are no limitations, professional addiction treatment may be needed to help you or your loved one get back on track with healthy living.
How Does Video Game Addiction Interact with Substance Use?
The behaviors associated with video game addiction are highly similar to those associated with substance abuse and drug use disorders. As a result, those who suffer from video game addiction may be more susceptible to substance abuse. For example, consuming prescriptions pills to help stay awake and continue gaming, could lead to a substance use disorder.
The co-existence of video game addiction and a substance use disorder or mental illness is known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Since many symptoms of these disorders tend to overlap, treating co-occurring disorders at the same time is necessary to experience a full, long-term recovery from both disorders. Failing to treat both disorders at the same time can lead to worsened symptoms of the untreated disorder or relapse of the treated disorder.
Many addiction treatment centers offer dual diagnosis treatment to help people overcome co-occurring disorders. Substance use disorders are treated using detoxification and therapies that treat the underlying cause of drug addiction, while video game addiction is commonly treated using behavioral therapies.
How are Video Game Addiction and Substance Use Disorders Treated?
Video game addiction is best treated using behavioral therapies combined with mutual support groups. Family therapy may also be recommended for children and teens suffering from video game addiction to help repair and strengthen family dynamics. Therapies for video game addiction focus on helping you experience a full social and emotional recovery since many cases of video game addiction stem from poor social skills, low self-esteem, and mental health disorders like depression.
Behavioral therapies can help you overcome negative emotions that may be driving your video game addiction, and reduce your boredom by helping you discover new, fun, healthy activities. These therapies also teach you how to manage and cope with stress more effectively and identify triggers that influence you to use video games as an escape.
Therapies for video game addiction:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Wilderness therapy
- Individual and group counseling
- Family therapy
- 12-step support group therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you change and modify negative thoughts and behaviors influencing your video game addiction, so you no longer view video games as your only escape from negative feelings like stress, boredom, and depression. Wilderness therapy allows you to head outdoors and escape technology so you can boost your confidence and connect with others in meaningful ways that lead to long-lasting friendships. Group and 12-step therapies teach you how to build new, trusting relationships with peers so you can successfully interact with others on a social level after overcoming your addiction.
Therapies for video game addiction can take place in either an inpatient or outpatient rehab setting, though inpatient treatment is recommended to help you establish a new daily routine minus unhealthy gaming habits. Inpatient rehab can help you recover away from access to video games and negative influences in your life who may be contributing to your addiction.
If you or other members in your household play video games, here are steps you can take to lower the risk for video game addiction:
- Choose outdoor activities over technology whenever possible, such as hiking, going to the park, or walking your dog.
- Set aside time to read books, magazines, and other media.
- Put important obligations like homework above video games.
- Spend more time helping your family with tasks like cooking, lawn care, and laundry.
- Plan family nights packed with activities that don’t involve technology, like board games or dancing.
- Limit the amount of time you spend playing video games, so family and other important obligations aren’t neglected.
Use our online directory to locate state resources devoted to helping you overcome video game addiction. Rehab centers featured on our website can customize addiction treatments for you or your loved one based on unique needs and situations to promote a healthy, long-term recovery from video game addiction.