Video Game Addiction

Sep 16, 2023

Key points:

  • About two-thirds of U.S. households participate in video gaming, with adults over 18 being the majority.

  • Video game addiction, termed "internet gaming disorder" in the DSM-5-TR, negatively affects self-care, relationships, academic performance, and professional responsibilities.

  • Video game addiction affects individuals across various age groups, with adults more commonly diagnosed, and males exhibiting symptoms more frequently.

  • Emotional symptoms include restlessness, preoccupation, dishonesty, and social withdrawal.

  • Physical symptoms encompass fatigue, headaches, repetitive strain injuries, and neglect of personal care.


In today’s digital age, video games have become an integral part of American culture. They provide entertainment, develop skills, and even offer avenues for social interaction. Recent data shows that about two-thirds of U.S. households participate in video gaming, with most of these gamers being adults aged over 18. 

However, while many enjoy gaming as a hobby, a darker side to this pastime exists: video game addiction. This serious condition can deeply impact affected individuals, but its signs and symptoms may not always be easy to recognize. 

What is Video Game Addiction?

Video game addiction, recognized as "internet gaming disorder" in the DSM-5-TR, is a behavioral condition characterized by a reduced ability to control one's gaming habits. This lack of control can lead to several negative outcomes in a person's life. Some negative consequences can include areas such as self-care, personal relationships, academic performance, and professional responsibilities.

While some experts cannot agree on this condition’s classification as an addiction or mental disorder, it's important to understand that any habit or activity that becomes overwhelming and affects everyday life can lead to mental, social, and physical health challenges. If you believe your gaming habits are negatively affecting your well-being, it may be time to seek treatment.  

Who Does Video Game Addiction Affect?

Video game addiction is a condition that doesn't discriminate by age. It can impact individuals across various age groups, including children, teens, and adults. However, adults are more commonly diagnosed with this addiction. Additionally, males tend to exhibit video game addiction symptoms more frequently than females.

How common is video game addiction?

According to a recent study, between 0.3-1 percent of the general population meet the criteria for a diagnosis of video game addiction. While this might seem like a small percentage, when applied to a large population, it represents a significant number of individuals potentially grappling with this challenge.

When Gaming Becomes an Addiction

Gaming can be an engaging pastime for many, but the line between recreational gaming and addictive gaming can sometimes blur. The difference lies in the consequences of the behavior. 

Balancing gaming with other activities without compromising one’s routine signifies a healthy hobby. However, addiction often manifests as an overwhelming need to play, regardless of daily tasks or commitments. 

If gaming begins to disrupt daily routines, hinder personal relationships, impede work or academic progress, or cause a decline in self-care,  it has likely crossed the line from a harmless hobby to a potential addiction. 

What Causes Video Game Addiction?

The alluring nature of video games is not accidental. Video games are engineered to be captivating as a way to keep players engaged for extended periods. 

Key factors that may contribute to video game addiction include: 

  • Behavioral Psychology: Modern video games are engineered using behavioral psychology techniques. These techniques are designed to keep players engaged and returning for more.

  • Dopamine Release: Playing these games results in high dopamine levels, a neurochemical linked to pleasure and reward. Prolonged exposure to this stimulation can lead to structural brain changes.

  • Instant Gratification: Video games often reward players quickly. This fosters an environment where immediate rewards become the norm, leading to adjusted behavioral expectations.

  • Time Distortion: The immersive nature of games can distort one's perception of time, making hours feel like minutes.

  • Escape and Progress: Games offer an escape from real-world challenges and present measurable progress, giving players a sense of achievement.

  • Social Connectivity: Many games involve social interactions, creating a space where players feel a sense of community, safety, and control.

  • Manipulative Features: Game developers have integrated elements like in-app purchases, microtransactions, and loot boxes to manipulate players into playing. 

Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction, like other forms of behavioral addiction, presents both emotional and physical symptoms. Recognizing these signs can be the first step towards seeking help.

Emotional Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction can affect one's mental and emotional well-being. Emotional symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Restlessness or Irritability: This can occur when an individual is prevented from playing

  • Preoccupation: Constant thoughts or an obsession about getting back to a game, or constantly planning the next gaming session

  • Dishonesty: Lying to loved ones about the duration and frequency of their gaming sessions

  • Social Withdrawal: Choosing to spend more time in-game than with friends or family, leading to isolation

Physical Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

Excessive video gaming can lead to significant physical symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue: Consistently feeling tired or drained due to lack of adequate rest

  • Headaches: Resulting from intense concentration or screen-induced eye strain

  • Repetitive Strain Injuries: Like carpal tunnel syndrome, due to continuous use of gaming controllers or mice

  • Neglected Personal Care: A noticeable decline in personal hygiene or grooming standards

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Video Game Addiction

The immediate effects of video game addiction might seem minor, but they can potentially signal deeper challenges. In the short term, individuals may experience sleep deprivation, often sacrificing rest to continue their gaming sessions. They might also miss meals and social events as they prioritize their gameplay, preferring the virtual realm to real-world interactions.

As time progresses, these initial symptoms can evolve into more long-lasting issues. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to severe sleep disorders. Regularly skipping meals or opting for unhealthy snacks can result in nutritional deficiencies or other diet-related health complications. 

Social isolation might intensify, leading individuals to withdraw from family events, outings with friends, or other important personal engagements. If unchecked, this pattern can result in gamers finding themselves lacking social connections altogether. 

Furthermore, the financial burdens associated with regular purchases of games, equipment, and online services can strain budgets. Last but not least, spending a large portion of one's time on gaming can take away from academic or professional responsibilities, potentially preventing educational or career growth.

Depression and Video Game Addiction

The relationship between mental health and excessive video gaming has been a recent topic of discussion and concern. While definitive conclusions have yet to be drawn, recent research indicates a potential link between excessive gaming and depression. 

In a comprehensive review, researchers analyzed 50 studies fitting specific criteria for video game addiction. The findings indicated that individuals with problematic gaming behaviors had higher rates of depression, anxiety, ADHD, and OCD. Additionally, these individuals often exhibited decreased self-control, lowered self-esteem, and compromised academic well-being.

How is Video Game Addiction Treated? 

Treating video game addiction often requires a strategic approach, combining psychological therapies with lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medications. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been found effective in addressing the underlying patterns of thinking and behavior associated with this addiction. Through CBT, individuals learn to recognize and challenge their problematic behaviors and develop healthier coping strategies. 

Additionally, family therapy can be beneficial, especially for younger individuals, as it educates families about the addiction and helps them support their loved one's recovery. Lifestyle changes, such as setting strict gaming schedules, engaging in physical activity, and ensuring a balance of offline activities, are also important components of treatment.

Medication: Are There Drug Options for Video Game Addictions?

Currently, there are no medications that are FDA-approved specifically for the treatment of video game addiction. However, some individuals with this addiction might be prescribed medications to treat underlying or co-existing mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. 

Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can alleviate some symptoms that might contribute to or worsen the addiction. It's important to consult with a psychiatrist or primary care provider to determine if medication is appropriate and to ensure that any prescribed drug is taken under proper medical supervision.

Seeking Treatment for Video Game Addiction

Recognizing the problem is the first step towards recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with video game addiction, it's important to seek professional help. Start by consulting with a mental health professional who can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend suitable treatments. 

Additionally, joining support groups where individuals share their experiences and coping strategies can be beneficial. These groups can offer both advice and the reassurance of being understood. Educating oneself about the nature of the addiction can also empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health and well-being.

Tackling a video game addiction on your own can be challenging. Professional intervention provides the best chance for understanding, managing, and overcoming your addiction.

References

2022 Essential Facts About The Video Game Industry | Entertainment Software Association

Internet Gaming | American Psychiatric Association

Sexual Differences in Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD): From Psychological Features to Neuroanatomical Networks | National Library of Medicine

Identifying individuals in need of help for their uncontrolled gaming: A narrative review of concerns and comments regarding gaming disorder diagnostic criteria | National Library of Medicine

Loot boxes and problem gambling: Investigating the “gateway hypothesis” | ScienceDirect 

Problematic gaming behaviour and health-related outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis | Sage Journals

Efficacy of cognitive behavioural therapy for internet gaming disorder | National Library of Medicine

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