Video Game Addiction: How to Stop Addiction to Video Games?

Last Updated: January 20, 2021

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Video game addiction is an impulse control disorder that is similar to that experienced by those suffering from gambling addiction. The excessive and compulsive game playing negatively impacts the player’s life on a day to day basis. Perhaps people who are a bit skeptical about the veracity of video gaming addiction might be excused, but the evidence proves that this is indeed a real thing. There are, in fact, people who are addicted to video games and with corresponding undesirable consequences.

Video game addiction is now recognized because of the broader definition of the term addiction. Before recent times, it only referred to cases where some sort of substance was involved and was being abused. But now, things that can cause addictive behavior are being studied and categorized as addictions.

Video Game Addiction Overview

Studies commenced as far back as 1983, although the methods used were less empirical than desirable for scientific inquiry. More recently, research into this compulsive disorder has yielded results. 20 odd years of research culminated in the addiction being officially recognized by the American Psychiatry Association as a condition that should be addressed by researchers and clinicians.

It has since been included in the updated version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) for the first time in the same category where other disorders like gambling addiction can also be found. Video game addiction is officially termed as Internet gaming disorder.

The definition of this addiction offered in the manual is:

"persistent and recurrent use of the Internet to engage in games, often with other players, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as indicated by five (or more) [criteria] in 12 months."

This classification offers some benefits to the individual suffering from this addiction and society at large. Knowing that this condition is an actual mental disorder will encourage people suffering from it or their guardians to seek medical help. Furthermore, this official categorization is an incentive for health care providers and health insurance companies to offer appropriate coverage. Lastly, recognizing this disorder will help to soften public prejudice against people who are video game addicts as they understand better that they are not fully in control of their actions.

Gaming addiction has been officially pronounced as a disorder by the World Health Organization. The organization included Gaming Disorder (GD) in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and officially recognized it as a diagnosis code.

Also, a study has been carried out (albeit with a non-diverse focus group including only Korean children) where some criteria for the diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder were met, proving the fact that this condition is a real addiction that one can experience.

How Many People Play Video Games?

The easy availability of devices used for gaming, such as mobile phones, game consoles, PCs, and even smart TVs, has made gaming available to virtually everyone at all times. These people vary widely and include children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged people, and even older people sometimes.

In an international study conducted to gauge gaming addiction levels, it was revealed that up to 0.3 – 1% of the general population fulfills the criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder.

Excited Black Gamer Girl in Headphones.

Here are some of the statistics that show how pervasive the addiction really is:

  • Over a week, gamers aged 18 to 25 play computer games for an average of 20 hours.
  • Almost three-quarters of American households play video games.
  • Different studies using different parameters to define video gaming addiction concluded in 2007, 2008, and 2009 classified 12%, 6%, and 3% respectively of their participants as being addicted to video games.
  • Video games activate the same regions of the brain of video game addicts as those activated when drug and alcohol addicts are in proximity to a substance of abuse.
  • Young males are more susceptible to this addiction than females.
  • Addiction to video games correlates strongly to deficiencies in managing relationships, a strong need for intellectual validation, and a thrill-seeking mentality.
  • Online role-playing games are a stronger trigger for video game addiction.

How Video Game Addiction Affect The Brain

Studies have shown that most people struggling with this addiction play multiplayer games on the internet. This type of gaming behavior is an even stronger trigger for addiction because the internet replaces real-life social interactions, reducing the need for the player to seek these interactions outside of the internet.

Furthermore, online multiplayer games – especially role-playing games, are major triggers for game and internet addictions because of the fantasy worlds that are available to explore. It provides an option for escapism, and it is easy to fall into gaming addiction this way.

On another note, one must understand that the basis for the addiction is not necessarily tied to the number of hours that a person spends playing games alone. It is possible to spend a lot of hours of gaming simply because one enjoys it. However, when it gets to the point where it is hard to function properly without gaming or spend more time gaming that should be spent doing other important things, it has become an addiction.

In that way, gaming addiction has a similar effect on the brain as some other types of addiction. The act of gaming releases dopamine in the brain, and the more one games, the more dopamine is released at extremely high levels. When a video game addict tries to stop, the sudden drop in dopamine levels triggers the urge for a relapse.

screaming while playing video games on computer.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms Of A Gaming Disorder?

These signs and symptoms can be classified into two groups – physical and behavioral signs. The physical signs are things that one can look out for in the appearance of a person that may indicate video game addiction, while the behavioral signs are related to changes in behavior.

Some Possible Physical Signs are:

  • Bad posture
  • Loss of appetite (from preoccupation with gaming)
  • Weight gain or (from sedentary lifestyle)
  • Swollen eyes (from lack of sleep or generally overworking the eyes)
  • More frequent seizures (for people that already have an existing seizure-related condition)

Behavioral signs may be a bit harder to pick one if one is not looking out for them. At the same time, even when they do exist, they are not always an indication of video gaming addiction. Whilst many parents would like to think their kids are addicted to video games, not everyone who plays a lot of video games is actually addicted to them.

Furthermore, not only teenagers are active players of video games. A big chunk of the percentage includes adults who are over 30 years old. Addiction can be diagnosed after some characteristics become apparent.

Some Behavioral Traits to Look Out For When Trying to Figure Out if a Person is Addicted to Video Games Include:

  • Reduced efficiency at work or school
  • Becoming less sociable away from the computer or showings sings on nomophobia
  • Playing games to escape from problems
  • Being constantly preoccupied with thinking about video games even while busy with other activities
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time playing video games and sometimes becoming sleep deprived in the process
  • Becoming less inclined to socialize except via online means
  • Becoming depressed, anxious, or irritable after having gone a stretch of time without playing computer games
  • Repeated attempts and failures to reduce playing games so much
  • Being evasive and telling lies to family, friends, and people in authority in a bid to try and conceal just how much time is spent playing video games
Tired young man massaging his face.

What Are the Dangers of Gaming Addiction?

The cons of video game addiction are numerous, especially when compared to the relatively few pros. The only advantages of playing a lot of video games are a heightened imagination and perhaps improved hand-eye coordination. These are not close to being able to match the overwhelmingly negative effects of the addiction. Most of the symptoms of video game addiction translate directly into negative effects. However, there are some effects that may be even longer-lasting and more dangerous.

People Addicted to Video Games Usually Suffer From Other Conditions Such As:

  • Weight gain: Addicts usually spend long periods sitting in one spot. They also engage in binge eating and drinking while playing their games, and this is disastrous for their health. The sedentary lifestyle that accompanies video game addiction also comes with other risks, such as type 2 diabetes.
  • Bad posture: Another resulting condition from overuse of video games. It is not uncommon for hardcore gamers to stay in awkward positions for long periods, which may permanently alter their bone structure.
  • Poor social engagement: Video game addicts tend to spend so much time alone while playing games that they lose the essence of creating and building real-life social relationships with peers. Social skills are an important part of living in the real world, so this can be a huge deal.
  • Reduced attention span and concentration: There are schools of thought that consider the fast-paced and quick movements in a lot of video games to be detrimental to the concentration and attention span of players. Hence, video game addicts may struggle to concentrate or engage in activities that require a slower pace, such as reading books.
  • Possibility of increased aggression: This is particularly applicable to people who play many video games that contain aggressive behavior and violence. The habits of the characters in these games may seep into the player’s habits, and one may begin to see signs of increased aggression in their real-life interactions as a result of this.
  • Increased risk of seizures: This is applicable to people who already suffer from a health disorder that causes seizures. The blinking, rapid lights, and rapidly changing colors of video games may trigger these seizures.
  • Avoiding developmental tasks: This specifically applies to gamers that are not yet full-grown adults. There is a natural order of growth in people where one spends time on self-discovery and personal development. Seeing as video games are a distraction to this natural order, an excessive show of video game use can negatively impact a young person’s proper growth in this regard.
  • Delusions: Addicts have been known to get so engrossed in a game that they can no longer separate it from reality. The line between make-believe and reality starts to blur for them. They sometimes think their avatar is their real self and behave in irrational ways in real life, sometimes hurting themselves and/or others in the process.

What Are The Treatment Options for Internet Gaming Disorder?

Video game addicts suffer from all the typical withdrawal symptoms such as anger, depression, boredom, loneliness, mood swings, and anxiety whenever they try to abstain from the games. The addiction results in a lot of physical discomfort and various medical complications such as dry eyes, aches, carpal tunnel syndrome, so it is advised that people consult certified addictions counselors who are well versed in the treatment of video game addiction.

female psychologist working with teenage boy.

Addiction Counseling

The counselors carry out an assessment in determining the extent of treatment that applies to the addict. Several programs such as cognitive behavioral therapy, wilderness therapy, and therapeutic boarding schools have also proved effective in helping teenagers overcome video game addiction. In these places, video game addicts are separated from their games and devices that make gaming possible.

Addicts are forced to interact with the real environment around them rather than the virtual reality that they have conditioned themselves to overtime. They learn to interact with other people better and improve their social skills. The physical activities also improve their confidence and provide a different outlet for their restlessness and curiosity.

This activity can reset their appreciation of the real and help them to realize how fake gaming really is. A process of disassociation begins, and after a while, the addict can recover and have more control over the addiction.

Support Groups

Apart from these forms of therapy, support groups can also be a great way to treat and recover from addiction. This applies to the scenario in the same way that it applies to most addiction scenarios. When one is surrounded by people that are going through the same problems, it is easier to grind through the tough process of recovery than when one is doing it alone or without people that genuinely know what it’s like. Support groups are most effective when therapy has been done, and the recovering addict needs the motivation and know-how to stay away from a relapse.

Medication

Some types of medication can also be useful in the treatment of this addiction. These medications may not directly treat the addiction, but they can treat the habits that lead to addiction. For instance, a person who has become addicted to video games as an escape from social interactions because of some form of social anxiety disorder may benefit from getting medications that help deal with this social anxiety. When there is a reduced need to look for an escape, the pull of the addiction is also reduced.

Because the devices that video game addicts use are a normal part of everyone’s daily life, the objective of their treatment is not to completely eradicate the use of these devices but rather to help them learn how to use them responsibly. It is similar to the way a food addict has to learn to control his/her diet but, of course, not completely ceasing to eat.

Steps To Prevent Gaming Problem

There is currently no concrete evidence that shows which video games are more likely to lead to an addiction. Hence, any steps taken to prevent a gaming problem covers all types of games, generally.

  • Set a time limit for gaming and stick to it. If possible, get someone to hold you accountable for these restrictions.
  • Keep your gaming devices away from your bedroom. Having them nearby may trigger a relapse while you’re trying to recover.

Find other activities to get involved in. Physical activities such as exercise (but not too much exercise) will help improve your health and take your mind off gaming too.

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Page Sources

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Published on: July 12th, 2016

Updated on: January 20th, 2021

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.