Gaming Addiction: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment
With the advent of games that allow users to completely immerse themselves in an alternate reality, gaming addiction has been affecting increasing numbers of people.
Games like World of Warcraft, League of Legends and Call of Duty have seen players rack up massive amounts of hours each month engaging in gaming.
However, a distinction has to be made. When is playing video games harmless fun, and when does it fall into addiction? And if you are addicted, what can you do to stop?
What is gaming addiction?
Video game addiction, much like any other addiction, is excessive use of something to the point where it impacts your life negatively. In this case, playing video games to the detriment of work, school, socialising or maybe even basic hygiene.
While some might believe that gaming addiction is not as serious as substance addiction, it can and does ruin people's lives.
A person who is completely consumed by video game addiction can have all aspects of their life destroyed by their obsession.
There have even been cases where people have died due to ignoring health conditions, not sleeping, not eating, not drinking or not moving while playing video games.
Why do people get addicted to video games?
There can be many reasons why someone might get addicted to video games. For one, it provides an escape from reality.
Gaming can also be considered a form of socialisation. Online multiplayer games, connect a player with other gamers from all over the world, making them feel like they are part of a community. For some introverted people, this can be a huge draw.
Video games are also designed to be addictive, to keep players engaged. There is always the next challenge to overcome and the next level to reach.
How do you know you have gaming addiction?
Not all video game playing is unhealthy. The majority of people can have a few games of their favourite game, then turn off their PC or console and not think about it until the next time they play.
People who are addicted to video games are not like this. They spend large amounts of time playing video games. When they are not playing, they are obsessing about the next time that they will play.
Symptoms of gaming addiction: self-assessment:
- Do you find it difficult to go for more than an hour without playing a game?
- Do you lie to family and friends about how much time you spend gaming?
- Have you ever stolen money in order to buy video games or gaming equipment?
- Do you neglect work or school in favour of playing video games?
- Has your social life or personal relationships suffered as a result of your video gaming?
- Do you forget to eat, drink, sleep or wash whilst gaming?
- Do you feel anxious, restless or irritable when you are not able to play your video game?
- Have others suggested that you play video games too much and may have a problem?
If you identify with any of the symptoms of gaming addiction, you may have a problem that requires professional help.
Consequences of gaming addiction
Any addiction has consequences, and video game addiction is no different. Here are some of the repercussions of untreated gaming addiction.
Decreased ability to socially interact
Socialising is a skill. When someone plays video games instead of interacting with people face to face, their ability to socialise diminishes. If someone continues to do this, the thought of connecting with another person in “the real world” may become anxiety-provoking.
This leads to a vicious cycle where someone avoids socialising by playing video games and becomes more anxious at the thought of spending time with other people.
If you are in this situation, the quickest way out is by forcing yourself to connect with other people in the real world. This will be challenging at first but will become easier the more you do it.
Reduced performance at work and in education
Video gaming can be a big drain on a person’s time. Hours spent playing games limits the amount of time someone can spend on their career or progressing with their education. This can leave a person with a gaming addiction feeling like their life is going poorly, which leads them to play more video games to forget about their problems.
Poor mental health
Video game addiction can cause mental health problems. Gaming addiction can limit social interaction, which has a massive impact on mental health. When someone is playing for many hours a day, their brain can get rewired.
The constant supply of dopamine that is provided by video games means that gamers can become very depressed when they are not playing. This also leads to reduced motivation to do other things that are not as stimulating as playing video games.
Poor physical health
When someone spends all their time playing games, their physical health can deteriorate through lack of exercise. Experts recommend a minimum of 60 minutes of exercise per day for children and adolescents. Adults should get a minimum of 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week.
What to do if you have the symptoms of gaming addiction
If you think you might have a problem with video game addiction, there are some things you can do to get help.
- Talk to someone. This could be a friend, family member or therapist.
- Set boundaries. Limit your video game usage to a certain number of hours per week. Let someone know how long this is and ask them to hold you accountable.
- Identify and address triggers. What makes you want to play video games? Is it boredom, stress or anxiety? Address these triggers and you may be able to reduce the time you spend playing.
- Find other hobbies. Find something else to do that can occupy your time. This could be going for walks, reading, education or playing sports.
Gaming Addicts Anonymous treatment for gaming addiction
If the above suggestions do not help, it may be time to try attending a support group that can help you with your gaming problem.
Gaming Addicts Anonymous is a twelve-step group that follows the same format as other twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Members of Gaming Addicts Anonymous meet regularly to talk about their experiences, strength and hope, helping each other to overcome gaming addiction.
When you become a member of Gaming Addicts Anonymous, it is recommended that you work “the steps” with the help of a sponsor. This is a person who has experience with the programme of recovery and has successfully applied its principles to all areas of their life.
SMART Recovery also offer a science-based programme that can be adapted to any addiction
Getting rehab treatment for gaming addiction
If you have tried to break your addiction to video games by other means and failed, it may be time to consider going to rehab for treatment. You might believe that rehab is only for people who have substance abuse problems. However, rehabs are also used by people who have process addictions. These are dependencies to an activity such as sex addiction, gambling addiction, TikTok or shopping addiction.
While going to rehab for substance abuse usually involves an initial period of detoxification, this is not required for video game addiction. This means that you can immerse yourself fully in the programme from the first day that you arrive.
If you are attending rehab for video game addiction, you will be asked to hand over your electronic devices. This is so you cannot play video games. Depending on the rehab, you may be permitted to have your electronic devices back at certain times with supervision. This is to ensure that you do not use your devices for gaming, but rather for making contact with loved ones.
Treatment for the root causes of your video game addiction
Whilst in treatment you will look at the reasons why you became addicted to video games in the first place. Sometimes there is one reason why people become addicted to video games, other times there are a number of different reasons.
Whatever the reason, counselling sessions in rehab will help you to explore and address the issues in your life that were causing your compulsive behaviour.
Your sessions will not just be one on one, and you will also be expected to take part in the group sessions at the rehab. These usually include sessions where clients of the rehab tell their life stories, participate in relapse prevention sessions, and take part in other therapies such as art, mindfulness or meditation.
History of video games and gaming addiction
Looking at the captivating and visually draw-dropping games of today, it’s hard to imagine that just a couple of decades ago, playing a video game involved blocky animation, 8-bit sounds and basic storylines. Back then, gamers often needed plenty of imagination to complete the illusion of being in a different world.
Nowadays, video games provide users with increasingly stimulating experiences, where they can upgrade their character, explore different areas and interact on a meaningful level with other characters. These are all things that give us bursts of dopamine, so it is little wonder people get addicted. Here’s a short introduction to how these video games have evolved over the years to be the entertainment that some people find so difficult to put down.
It all started with Pong, a table tennis simulation game created by Atari. This was the first video game to gain widespread popularity, and it kickstarted the entire video game industry. Pong was simple yet addictive, and people were instantly hooked.
Super Mario Bros
Super Mario Bros. is a platform game that was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. The game follows the adventures of Mario, a plumber who must rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser. Super Mario Bros. was a huge success, selling over 40 million copies worldwide and cementing Mario as one of the most iconic video game characters of all time.
Final Fantasy is a role-playing game that was originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. The game follows the adventures of four young heroes who must save the world from the evil Garland. Final Fantasy popularised a number of gameplay mechanics that are now commonplace in role-playing games, such as an emphasis on story and character development, turn-based combat and the use of magic.
While looking decidedly dated now, this first-person shooter was revolutionary when it was released. Featuring (for the time) expansive environments and immersive graphics, this game enthralled many gamers of that generation.
Goldeneye has been replaced with games like Call of Duty and Halo, which offer far better graphics and gameplay experiences. While Goldeneye could only be played multiplayer in a split-screen format. Today, there are servers around the world where players can log in and play against other gamers around the clock, either individually or as part of a team.
Everquest was one of the first popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). These types of games allow large numbers of people to play games within the same environment. Typically, MMORPGs allow players to fight enemies, collect resources and make their characters more powerful.
Current MMORPGs include World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. These types of games are considered some of the most addictive, as there is an almost endless amount of items to gain and quests to go on.
Future of gaming addiction with virtual reality
As technology advances, so does the experience quality of video games. Graphics are becoming more realistic and computer games companies are creating increasingly addictive video games. With the advent of virtual reality, players will be able to completely immerse themselves in an alternate world. This could lead to even more addictive behaviours as people try to escape the “real world”.
Help and treatment for video game addiction
Any addiction can be perilous, and video game addiction is no different. Allowing video games to take over can wreak havoc in many areas of your life, and ultimately render you with an unfulfilling life, isolated and without social skills.
If you are addicted to video games, you can take steps now to quit. Set boundaries on your video game usage, seek out opportunities to socialise and find healthy hobbies. If you find yourself unable to do this, you should consider seeing a counsellor, going to a video game addiction recovery group, or attending a rehab.
You can also access our Hub of Hope which will tell you about local treatment services for gaming addiction in your local area.
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- Physical activity guidelines for adults - https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-guidelines/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults-aged-19-to-64/
- Video game addiction: symptoms, causes and effects - https://www.psychguides.com/behavioral-disorders/video-game-addiction/