Do video games have withdrawal symptoms?

May 10, 2024

Video game addiction is also known as internet gaming disorder. It’s characterized by the inability to control the urge to play video games. It’s not the number of time spent playing video games that indicates there’s an addiction. Rather, the individual is addicted because they can’t quit even if they want to.

Video games can help them escape from feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Instead, it destroys one’s emotional and mental health. 

It also causes individuals to withdraw from their family, friends, responsibilities, and other interests. When you’re addicted, you’ll experience withdrawals when you try to control or abstain from your habit. 

Video game withdrawal often mimics withdrawals from substance abuse. Researchers noted many withdrawal symptoms, ranging from headaches to anxiety and aggression. This shows that addiction to video games is possible. 

What is Gaming Withdrawal?

Video game addiction isn’t always an ongoing issue. Sometimes, the individual stops playing periodically. They are more likely to experience withdrawals when they’re stressed, depressed, or anxious. 

That’s because the addict relies on video games as an escape from their emotional problems. Gaming withdrawal occurs when the individual completely abstains from video games. This is known as a dopamine detox in which they might experience withdrawal symptoms.

Video Game Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

Common withdrawal symptoms include aggression, fatigue, headaches, and insomnia. The addict might also have a strong urge to play video games. Video games affect the brain similar to how drugs do. 

You get a dopamine boost every time you play a video game. This is because video games trigger the brain’s reward system. This part of the brain becomes desensitized with increased use. 

For this reason alone, video games can become addicting. The brain’s response to video games makes it possible for someone to develop a video game addiction. Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety or depression, headaches and nausea, irritability or restlessness, lack of patience and outbursts, and sleep changes. 

Irritability and Aggression

Not all video games can cause violent or aggressive behavior, especially if the game itself isn’t violent. However, it can lead to a rise in irritability and aggression in those who experience a series of losses. 

Author Dr. Cheryl Olson wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about how violent video games can influence aggressive behavior in real life. She cited several studies that found a link between violent video games and bullying among youth. 

Researchers in the book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents, compared the effects of aggressive video games and other media on the aggression and irritability found in teenagers. This research alone suggests video games can cause aggression and irritability. 

Cravings

When you quit playing video games, it’s easy for those cravings to emerge. Other times, these feelings come out of nowhere. Cravings come in different forms and can happen for various reasons. 

You might realize that you miss playing video games with your friends. This is why keeping yourself busy during the withdrawal period is important. You’ll get more pleasure and joy from trying new hobbies and interests. 

Be prepared for when cravings happen so you’re equipped with the tools and practices to respond to them. You should also understand the meaning behind the urge. It could be due to a chemical imbalance or an underlying reason for your addiction. 

Once you identify the emotion, you’ll want to incorporate new positive emotions. Do something that makes you feel good, such as taking a walk meditating, or visiting a friend. This will replace the need to play video games. 

Anxiety, Depression

Video game addiction is often associated with an increase in anxiety and depression. Problematic gaming was found to be associated with ADHD and other co-occurring mental health disorders.

Increased use of video games can cause low self-esteem, reduced self-control, and poor emotional well-being. There are several reasons as to why video games cause anxiety and depression. 

Experts believe video game addicts struggle to connect in their interpersonal relationships. They might avoid in-person interactions for virtual ones. 

Experts also noticed a link between video game addiction and depression. Compulsive gaming is often a coping mechanism in which the individual uses video games to relieve psychological challenges

Headaches

Excessive video game use can also cause headaches and migraines. You’ll experience them while playing these games or experiencing withdrawal symptoms.  

Long hours playing video games also lead to a lack of circulation and eyestrain, which are also symptoms of chronic headaches. Eyestrain is the leading cause of most headaches, regardless of the reason. 

Light sensitivity can also trigger headaches—especially when staring at a screen or playing a game with bright lights and colors. Looking at anti-glare screens on your phone or monitor can help reduce headaches associated with light sensitivity.

Headaches can also be triggered by stress. Anxiety, excitement, fatigue, and tension can all cause stress-related headaches. If you notice that you experience headaches during or after an intense video game session, reducing stress and taking breaks can help. 

Dehydration and fatigue are also the underlying reasons for headaches. Even slight dehydration can cause a slight headache to come on. In this case, it’s important to get rest and drink water. 

Typical video gaming headache symptoms include dull pain in the neck area, mild to moderate pain, pain on both sides and slow-onset headaches. 

The best way to treat these headaches is to take breaks, drink plenty of water, and get rest. Keeping your device at least 25 inches away from your face can also help.

How Long Do Withdrawals Last?

On average, the symptoms could last several weeks or months. According to Gambling Addicts Anonymous, the most severe symptoms are often felt for the first four days. Most individuals effectively recover from video games after several months. 

However, it would require the use of psychotherapy and medication, depending on the severity of the addiction. It takes time for the brain to recover from compulsive gaming disorder. 

If you find that you or someone you know has a video game addiction, it’s time to take an assessment. Birches Health is the leader in offering virtual psychotherapy for video game addiction. 

You can take a free and confidential assessment. From there, you’ll be paired up with a licensed mental health professional who can help you with your specific mental health disorder. 

Resources:

Video Game Withdrawal: What’s it Like?

Withdrawal Symptoms – Gaming Addicts Anonymous

Relationships between Behavioural Addictions and Psychiatric Disorders: What Is Known and What Is Yet to Be Learned?

Psychiatry.org - Internet Gaming

Triggers of Headaches | Mount Sinai - New York

Gaming Headaches: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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