Video Game Addiction in Adults: How Common Is It?

Mar 16, 2024

In a world where digital entertainment is more accessible than ever, video games stand out as a leading form of leisure and escape for many. With advancements in technology and the increase in gaming platforms, adults are finding themselves more and more immersed in virtual worlds. 

But when does this pastime cross the line into addiction? Video game addiction in adults is gaining attention from mental health professionals and researchers alike, as they seek to understand its impact and prevalence within our society.

Interestingly, the average video game player in the United States is 32 years old and has been engaged in this digital pastime for 21 years. This statistic not only shatters the stereotype of video gaming as a predominantly youthful hobby but also signals a significant portion of the adult population potentially at risk for addiction. 

Video Game Addiction Defined

Video game addiction, also known as gaming disorder, is defined by the compulsive use of video games to the extent that it interferes with an individual's daily life. Recognized by the World Health Organization as a mental health condition, this addiction mirrors patterns seen in other addictive behaviors, manifesting through an inability to control gaming habits, prioritizing gaming over other interests and daily activities, and continuing the behavior despite clear negative consequences.

The condition transcends age barriers, affecting not just younger demographics but adults as well. While a quarter of American players are under 18 (26%), a significant 35% fall within the 18-34 age bracket, 14% are aged 35-44, 11% are between 45-54, and 14% are 55 or older. These statistics highlight the widespread appeal of video games among adults, suggesting that the potential for addiction is not limited to younger individuals.

Why Gaming Appeals to Adults

The appeal of video gaming for adults can be attributed to various factors. For many, video games offer an escape from the stresses and mundanity of everyday life. They provide a virtual realm where achievements are tangible, and progress is measurable, offering a sense of accomplishment that might be lacking in other areas of life.

Furthermore, multiplayer games and online communities offer adults a platform for social interaction and connection, which can be particularly appealing for those who may feel isolated or disconnected in their physical environments.

However, the accessibility and appeal of video games can sometimes lead to excessive use, turning a leisure activity into a potential source of addiction. With a significant portion of the adult population engaged in gaming, understanding the appeal and potential risks associated with video games is essential.

How Video Game Addiction is Diagnosed

The diagnosis of video game addiction, or Internet Gaming Disorder, follows specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). For Internet Gaming Disorder, the DSM-5 suggests that an individual must exhibit at least five out of nine core symptoms over a 12-month period to warrant a diagnosis. 

Key criteria include:

  • Inability to Control Gaming Habits: Persistent or recurrent inability to control the onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, or context of gaming.

  • Increasing Priority Given to Gaming: The need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in video games to achieve satisfaction and a tendency to prioritize gaming over other life interests and daily activities.

  • Continuation Despite Negative Consequences: Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences, such as deteriorating relationships, decreased performance at work or school, or physical health issues related to sedentary lifestyle.

It is important for the diagnosis to distinguish between high engagement in gaming, which does not necessarily require intervention, and gaming disorder, which warrants professional treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Gaming and Internet Addiction in Adults

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of gaming and internet addiction in adults is the first step towards seeking help. These signs often manifest subtly and may be mistaken for harmless enthusiasm for gaming. However, when these behaviors persist and negatively impact an individual's life, they may indicate a deeper problem:

  • Preoccupation with Video Games: Spending excessive amounts of time thinking about video games, even when not playing.

  • Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms When Not Playing: Feeling irritable, anxious, or upset when unable to play.

  • The Need to Spend Increasing Amounts of Time Playing Video Games: Needing to dedicate more time to gaming to achieve satisfaction or excitement.

  • Failed Attempts to Control Participation in Video Games: Repeatedly trying and failing to reduce or control gaming behavior.

  • Loss of Interest in Previous Hobbies and Entertainment: Giving up other activities in favor of gaming.

  • Continuation Despite Knowledge of Psychosocial Problems: Persisting in gaming even when aware of negative consequences and social or personal problems.

  • Deceiving Family Members, Therapists, or Others Regarding the Amount of Gaming: Lying about the extent of involvement with video games.

  • Using Video Games to Escape or Relieve Negative Feelings: Engaging in gaming to avoid dealing with problems or to relieve negative emotions.

  • Risking or Losing Significant Relationships, Jobs, or Educational or Career Opportunities Because of Gaming: Experiencing significant personal losses due to gaming habits.

Identifying these signs in oneself or a loved one can be challenging, but acknowledgment is a critical step towards recovery. If these symptoms are present and causing significant impairment in daily functioning, it may be time to seek professional advice from an addiction specialist.

Treatment for Video Game Addiction

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for video game addiction in adults; instead, effective recovery strategies incorporate a combination of therapies, support systems, and lifestyle adjustments. Here are the primary treatment options for video game addiction:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used treatment method for various types of addiction, including video game addiction. It focuses on identifying and challenging the negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with gaming addiction, developing healthier coping mechanisms, and setting achievable goals to reduce gaming time.

  • Family Therapy: Since family dynamics often play a big role in the development and perpetuation of addictive behaviors, involving family members in the treatment process can be beneficial. Family therapy helps to improve communication, address underlying issues, and establish a supportive home environment.

  • Individual Counseling: One-on-one sessions with a mental health professional can provide personalized support and guidance through the recovery process. Counseling can help individuals understand the root causes of their addiction, develop self-esteem, and learn strategies to manage urges and maintain balance.

  • Support Groups: Joining support groups, such as Online Gamers Anonymous or other addiction-focused groups, can offer a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and strategies with others facing similar challenges can be incredibly supportive and encouraging.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes is important for recovery. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and engaging in hobbies and activities outside of gaming can help reduce the reliance on video games for fulfillment.

  • Digital Detox and Time Management: Taking a break from digital devices and setting strict limits on gaming time can help individuals regain control over their gaming habits. Tools like software that limits access to games or monitors usage can be helpful in maintaining these boundaries.

  • Mindfulness and Stress Management Techniques: Learning and practicing mindfulness, meditation, and stress management techniques can help individuals cope with the urges to game excessively. These techniques promote mental clarity, emotional regulation, and a greater sense of presence.

It's important to recognize that recovery from video game addiction is a journey, often requiring a combination of treatments and adjustments. Seeking professional help and support from loved ones can make a significant difference in overcoming addiction. Each individual's path to recovery will be unique, but with the right support and resources, finding balance and regaining control over gaming habits is entirely possible.

Sources: 

Video Games Remain America’s Favorite Pastime With More Than 212 Million Americans Playing Regularly - Entertainment Software Association 

Addictive behaviours: Gaming disorder - World Health Organization 

Internet Gaming - American Psychiatric Association 

Video Games Remain America’s Favorite Pastime With More Than 212 Million Americans Playing Regularly - Business Wire 

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