Video Game Addiction − Signs, Health Risks & How to Help

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Once dismissed as a mere pastime, gaming has become a thriving industry. The emergence of eSports, in particular, has pushed gaming into the mainstream, placing it as a globally recognized form of entertainment and competition that attracts millions of viewers and players yearly.

To be a skilled “gamer,” practice is essential. However, when gaming sessions begin to disrupt life and health, it may signal video game addiction. This addiction can lead to social withdrawal, neglect of responsibilities, sleep disturbances and physical health issues.

Read on to learn about this addiction, its medical manifestations, causes and how to get the right professional help.

What is Gaming Addiction?

Gaming addiction, classified as an Internet gaming disorder (IGD), shares similarities with gambling disorder and is associated with motivational control issues.

Research indicates that compulsive internet use can lead to various behavioral addictions, such as video gaming addiction. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), gaming addiction is characterized by persistent and repetitive internet gaming, often involving interaction with other players, leading to clinically significant distress and visible psychological changes.

Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

The DSM-5 proposes a series of symptoms of gaming addiction. To meet the diagnostic criteria, individuals must exhibit five or more specific criteria within a year.

Symptoms of gaming addiction may include:

  • Constantly thinking about gaming, even when not playing
  • Experiencing negative emotions like sadness, anxiety or irritability when unable to play
  • Needing to spend increasing amounts of time gaming to achieve the same level of satisfaction
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on gaming despite recognizing its negative impact
  • Neglecting hobbies or activities previously enjoyed in favor of gaming
  • Persisting in gaming despite experiencing negative consequences
  • Lying to family members or others about the amount of time spent gaming
  • Using gaming as a coping mechanism to alleviate feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or stress
  • Engaging in gaming to the extent of jeopardizing significant aspects of life

Causes of Video Game Addiction

Authors attributed three primary psychological reasons to gaming addiction: i) competency, ii) escapism and iii) autonomy, explained below:


Video games provide players with challenges and objectives that require skill and strategy. As players achieve success within the game, they experience feelings of accomplishment, which can be highly rewarding and motivating, leading individuals to spend increasing amounts of time gaming.


Video games’ immersive and interactive nature allows players to enter virtual worlds where they can temporarily forget their problems and responsibilities.

For example, gaming addiction may be more prevalent in children and teens of low-income families or with low academic performance. Video games offer an escape from these difficulties, leading them to seek solace in gaming for extended periods.


Video games give players much freedom and agency to choose and control their virtual experiences.

Players can customize their characters, explore vast open worlds and follow missions according to their preferences. This sense of autonomy can lead individuals to become addicted to gaming, particularly those who feel out of control in their real lives.

Underlying Mental Health Issues

Studies have consistently shown a strong correlation between underlying mental health issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and gaming addiction.

Research indicates that individuals, particularly children and teenagers with ADHD symptoms, are more susceptible to developing problematic gaming behaviors, even after controlling symptoms of other comorbid mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Gaming Platforms and Streaming

In addition to smartphones and consoles (Xbox, PlayStation), the Internet has made it possible to access video games for free or at very low costs. Twitch, a popular video gaming live streaming service with approximately 7.94 million active streamers and mostly male users between 16 and 24 years old, is a good example.

On this platform, people can broadcast themselves playing games, watch esports tournaments or chat with other viewers for free without a registered account, a constantly growing perk in the gaming industry causing massive video game consumption.

Lack of Parental Supervision

Without clear boundaries and screen time limits, children and teens can lose track of time and be exposed to inappropriate online content.

Parents who aren’t involved in gaming may miss signs of addiction and fail to introduce alternative activities. Furthermore, using gaming as a reward reinforces unhealthy habits.

Health Risks and Social Consequences of Video Game Addiction

As gaming is here to stay, there are concerns about the potential risks associated with excessive gaming. This addiction causes several health and social risks, such as:

Worse Memory, Attention and Cognitive Skills

  • Gaming addiction has been linked to poorer memory, attention and cognitive abilities in school
  • Spending excessive time playing the same types of games may harm the ability to retain memories

Attention Deficits

  • Higher addiction to video gaming is associated with worse attention scores
  • Attention deficits lead to increased error rates in attention-related tasks

Impact on Academic Performance

  • Addiction to video gaming predicts worse school grades and cognitive well-being.
  • Excessive gaming may decrease alertness and cognitive faults, particularly at school.

Cycle of Obsession and Withdrawal

Gamers can become fixated on completing a game or achieving a specific goal. This obsession can manifest as:

  • Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability or difficulty concentrating when unable to play
  • As the game progresses, players may become fixated on completing it, neglecting important tasks

Physical Health Issues

There are documented cases of “sudden gamer deaths” after suffering strokes due to playing video games for excessive amounts of time. Prolonged gaming can lead to eye strain, musculoskeletal problems and sleep disturbances due to excessive screen time and sedentary behavior.

Video Game Addiction Treatment

Treatment for gaming addiction is still under development in clinical practice, with clinicians continuously seeking the most effective interventions.

Several approaches have shown promise in addressing this behavioral addiction, such as:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Research suggests that CBT is effective as a short-term intervention for reducing addiction and symptoms of depression as it incorporates stimulus control, self-monitoring, cognitive restructuring and withdrawal regulation.


The “Programa Individualizado Psicoterapéutico para la Adicción a las Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación (PIPATIC)” combines psychoeducation and interpersonal and family interventions designed to treat technology addiction, including gaming addiction.


Clinicians have explored the pharmacotherapy options commonly used for depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Bupropion, in particular, shows promise in reducing symptoms while other antidepressants like escitalopram may show effectiveness, but much less than Bupropion.

Video Game Addiction – Key Takeaways

Gaming addiction is a complex clinical and social occurrence, particularly affecting teenagers, now recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) in their 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

Since the internet opened the door for new addictions like gaming, further research is needed to understand and address them fully. Prevention strategies, including exercise and physical activities, are highly recommended. If you, your children, or a friend are suffering from this addiction, seek professional help and join support groups like Online Gamers Anonymous to receive support and guidance.

People Also Ask

How many hours of gaming is an addiction?

Gaming addiction involves excessive play interfering with daily life. While no specific hour threshold defines addiction, any timeframe that leads to neglect of responsibilities, social withdrawal and adverse effects on mental health can be considered an addiction.

What is gaming syndrome?

Gaming syndrome refers to physical and psychological health issues resulting from excessive gaming. Symptoms include eye strain, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular issues, musculoskeletal problems and social isolation.

What causes video game addiction in kids?

Factors like escapism, social isolation, lack of parental supervision, reward systems within games and underlying mental health issues may cause video game addiction in kids These factors contribute to excessive gaming, leading to dependency and withdrawal symptoms.

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Retrieved on April 30, 2024.

Published on: July 12th, 2016

Updated on: April 30th, 2024

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