In the early days of video games, most games were available only on arcade machines, which were not accessible 24 hours a day. These days, games are one of the most popular features of social network sites, and they can be played almost continuously on handheld game devices, personal computers, or smart phones. Video games have become much more elaborate, with rich alternate worlds, multiple characters, and complicated storylines. Introverted children or teens may find that they can avoid interacting with “real”peers by engaging primarily with other online players, in the guise of characters with awe-inspiring gifts and powers.
When Gaming Becomes an AddictionNot all researchers agree that video gaming is a harmful or addictive activity. Many people, including parents, believe that video games expand the imagination, give children the opportunity to work collaboratively, and sharpen cognitive skills. Yet when young people spend most of their time playing video games at the expense of schoolwork, physical exercise, family events, or social activities, the benefits of gaming seem less certain.
There is some controversy over whether video gaming is an addiction comparable to gambling, drug abuse, or alcoholism.
Psychology Today states that the comparison between video gaming and gambling is flawed, because there are no financial stakes or material losses involved with video games. Winning a video game requires cognitive skills and sharp reflexes, while winning at gambling is a matter of luck.
However, according to WebMD, video game addiction can be considered a type of impulse control disorder.
The source of the addictive quality of gaming is still unknown, but researchers propose that the process of playing and winning these games may trigger a release of dopamine, a brain chemical that elevates mood and provides a rush of energy. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter involved in other addictive activities, such as alcohol or drug abuse.
Video game addiction is not currently recognized as an addictive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the definitive guide to psychiatric illness. But an obsessive preoccupation with games at the expense of real-life activities or obligations shares some of the characteristics of addictive behavior. How can a parent tell when gaming has stopped being simple entertainment and become an addiction? Here are a few of the key warning signs to watch for:
- Poor performance at school, work, or household responsibilities as a result of a preoccupation with gaming
- Neglect of other hobbies or friendships
- A decline in personal hygiene or grooming
- Inability to set limits on how much time is spent gaming
- Signs of irritability, anxiety, or anger when forced to stop gaming, even for brief periods of time
- The need to spend more time playing games or to play more intensely in order to get the same level of enjoyment
- Symptoms of physical or psychological withdrawal, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, agitation, or emotional outbursts if the game is taken away
- Using video games as a way to escape stressful situations at work or school, or conflicts at home
Children and teenagers aren’t the only ones who can be vulnerable to video game addiction. Adults may also play video games for hours instead of engaging in work activities, pursuing hobbies, or devoting time to their partners or children. When adults are no longer able to control the amount of time they spend on video games, or when their jobs or relationships begin to suffer as a result of video gaming, they may have crossed the line from recreation to addiction.
Popular Beliefs About Video Games
The growing popularity of video games has created a new awareness of the problem of compulsive gaming, which in turn has led to the development of treatment programs for this addictive process. Treatment for video game addiction focuses on behavioral modification therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), that guide the client away from the obsessive thought patterns and obsessive habits of addiction. Group therapy is a valuable source of motivation and moral support, especially for individuals who have lost contact with friends or peers as a result of their game addiction. Family or marriage counseling can help educate loved ones about the disorder and create a more stable home environment.
Clients who are diagnosed with co-occurring depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other psychiatric conditions may require medication therapy with antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. If substance abuse is a factor, the client will need medical detox followed by specialized treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.
Depending on the severity of the addictive behavior and the co-occurrence of other medical or psychiatric conditions, video game addiction may be treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient facilities offer 24-hour supervision in a supportive, structured environment, which may be beneficial for individuals who haven’t been able to control their video game use. Outpatient treatment, which includes intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), offers more flexibility for individuals who cannot enroll in inpatient treatment due to personal responsibilities or who are very motivated to recover from addictive behavior.
Compared to other addictive disorders, video game addiction may not seem very serious; however, the parents, partners, and children of people addicted to video games can testify to the negative effects of this behavior.
Like other potentially positive activities, video games have their place in a healthy, well-rounded life, but when gaming begins to take precedence over school, work, or relationships, the individual needs professional help. While American Addiction Centers does not treat video game addictions, treatment programs are now available all over the country that address this new disorder and offer hope to people seeking freedom from compulsive gaming.