Understanding Video Game Addiction: Symptoms and Treatment

Although many people believe that video games can develop imagination, encourage teamwork, and sharpen cognitive skills, there is a risk that you could slip into a compulsive gaming cycle. The inability to stop playing video games can become destructive, indicating the need for treatment. Feinberg can help set up a treatment plan tailored to helping your loved one overcome pathological gaming.

What Is Video Game Addiction? 

Video game addiction, also known as gaming disorder, is characterized by a loss of control over video gaming habits, resulting in negative consequences and significant impairment in many areas of life. You may recognize this in a loved one who neglects their mental and physical health, self-care, relationships, finances, school, and work.

Video game addictions are process and behavioral addictions in which a person becomes dependent on an activity rather than a substance. Process addictions cause repetitive behaviors that have disruptive consequences and are strongly associated with impulse control disorders because, despite the consequences, the person may be unable to resist the urge to participate in recurrent destructive behavior.

Although distinct from drug addiction, process addictions such as video game addiction are still helped through individualized treatment plans.  

How Is Video Game Addiction Diagnosed? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently recognized disordered gaming behavior, or gaming disorder, as a mental health condition. When the pattern of repetitive gaming behavior, which may involve online or offline gaming, becomes so severe that it overrides other vital interests or daily activities, gaming disorder develops, which persists and worsens.

Because process addictions develop for many reasons and vary from person to person, treating video game addiction requires a thorough initial assessment to ensure an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis.

Underlying genetic traits, trauma, mental health issues, and/or medical conditions may play a role. To help identify the root cause of internet gaming disorder and uncover other co-occurring disorders, our clinical team members will meet with the person of concern and/or their family for an assessment.

What Are the Warning Signs of Video Game Addiction? 

Without intervening, people with problematic gaming are likely to develop gaming disorders. If someone close to you is an avid gamer, it’s important to know how to recognize video game addiction symptoms so that you can encourage them to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Signs may include:

  • Strong desire to play video games
  • Preoccupation with thoughts about previous online activities or craving-like anticipation of the next gaming session
  • Isolation from others to play video games, including withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Withdrawal symptoms – such as feeling nervous, irritable, or restless – if they cannot play video games or have limited screen time
  • Lying to friends or family about gaming habits or the time they spend playing video games
  • They need to spend more time playing video games to feel ‘normal’ or to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Inability to reduce video game use or to stop video gaming
  • Excessive game-playing, leading to a loss of interest in other activities
  • Poor performance or neglecting responsibilities at work, home, or school to play video games
  • Continuing to play video games despite having problems

Although video game addicts may experience irritability, depression, mood swings, or aggression, there are also physical symptoms of video game addiction. These can include fatigue, migraines from eye strain or intense concentration, and poor personal hygiene.

Video game addiction can also lead to stress injuries in the hands or wrists and carpal tunnel syndrome. A sedentary lifestyle, caused by playing video games for hours on end, can lead to weight gain, poor posture, and an increased risk of diabetes.

What Can I Do If I or Someone in My Family Is Addicted to Video Games?

Forcibly removing a video game console or video games may feel like a good place to start, but it is not enough to work in the long run. If your loved one is refusing to acknowledge their addiction to video games or is unwilling to engage in discussion about getting help.

How Is Video Game Addiction Treated? 

At Feinberg, we believe that, just as every person’s addiction is unique, so must their treatment be. We work with the best treatment providers in order to create a customized and focused treatment plan specifically for your loved one. We aim to heal the person, not just the condition, and so we will use every resource available to help your loved one overcome video game addiction.

We may start by recommending talk therapy, psychiatry, and, in some cases, inpatient or outpatient treatment. Before making any recommendations, we will thoroughly assess the person of concern and the family members around them. This will guide the treatment recommendations.

We will also seek to identify any co-diagnosed mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. Therapeutic techniques used in psychotherapy are designed to help a person identify and change negative emotions, thoughts, or behaviors.

A holistic approach can also be incorporated into treatment to help heal and improve a person’s overall health. This may include an emphasis on physical activity, nutrition, meditation, experiential therapy, or art therapy. During recovery, the focus is often on developing life skills and bringing routine and structure into the individual’s life.

Although there is no single cure for all behavioral addictions, a person can go into remission and no longer experience the negative consequences of video game addiction. With increased self-awareness and skills to manage triggers for a return to video games, acute treatment shifts to ongoing maintenance of behavioral changes.

When Gaming Becomes an Addiction 

What separates a very enthusiastic gamer who enjoys playing video games in their spare time from video game addiction?

While billions of people play video games, not all gamers will become addicted. The problem arises when games create enough distress to interfere with a person’s ability to function in their life.

Playing video games ceases to be fun or recreational when it becomes a coping mechanism. Trying to quit essentially removes the coping mechanism, which is what makes it so difficult. Suppression of emotions – often gaming-induced – makes it difficult for gamers to communicate feelings, and shame and guilt can arise due to low social support and poor academic performance. The gaming community readily becomes their last resort.

You may have noticed that your loved one can longer control their urge to game and begin taking negative actions to sustain their addiction. They might neglect self-care, lash out when asked to stop playing video games, or repeatedly skip work or school. Another consequence is the inability to take time off for basic activities like drinking, eating, or sleeping.

Pathological video game use is treatable, and a gaming disorder is manageable. If you or a loved one is struggling with video game addiction, contact Feinberg today for the professional help you deserve.

What Causes Video Game Addiction? 

Here at Feinberg, we understand that each person’s story is unique. There is no single reason why people become addicted to gaming. Various factors may be involved, such as social isolation, a need to try and escape from daily life, and the allure of the endless progress/reward loop some games are based on.

We will fully assess your loved one before we begin making any treatment recommendations. This will not only help inform those treatment decisions but may also give us some vital clues as to why they became addicted to games in the first place.

Frequently Asked Questions About Video Game Addiction 

How Can Parents Prevent Video Game Addiction in Children?

If you would like to help prevent gaming disorder in a loved one, we recommend starting with the following:

  • Establishing guidelines to regulate screen time and video game use
  • Being aware of how much time they spend playing games and setting limits on these
  • Encouraging other hobbies or activities and finding creative ways to balance time spent gaming with outdoor and non-tech activities
  • As violent video games may be inappropriate and scary for some children, it is important to make sure that games are content and age-appropriate
  • Have a greater insight into your child’s gaming activity by playing alongside them
  • Talk to your child about gaming habits, gaming disorder, and its dangers

What Is the Role of Family and Friends in Helping Someone with Video Game Addiction? 

Family and friends can help by offering understanding and support, especially by not blaming or judging, and by suggesting getting help.

Education about video game addiction and its consequences is also important. Breaking codependency, establishing effective communication, and setting boundaries are all important ingredients in helping your loved one and can be learned through our family coaching services.  

Can Video Game Addiction Lead to Physical Health Problems?

Video games can affect your eye health. Strain from focusing on a brightly lit screen can cause dry eyes, blurred vision, and headaches.

Video gaming can also interfere with sleep cycles and sleep quality. Sitting in the same position for significant periods can lead to bad posture and back, joint, neck, wrist, arm, and elbow pain. Repetitive hand movements can cause tendinitis, bursitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Excessive video game use can lead to a constant state of hyperarousal, which comes with difficulties in emotion management, impulse control, and attention. Gaming disorders have also been associated with obesity. 

How Do Online Games Contribute to Video Game Addiction?

Online games offer players so much more because they are interactive, competitive, and social and take place in real time.

Research shows that online multiplayer games tend to be more addictive. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are inhabited by thousands of players simultaneously and allow players to take on a variety of virtual characters.

This structural game characteristic – viewing one’s virtual persona as better than oneself – is found to increase the risk of developing internet gaming addiction. MMORPG players also specifically prefer their online friends over their real-life friends.

How Common Is Video Game Addiction? 

The World Health Organization estimates that only a small percentage of people are addicted to video games, and a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis found a global prevalence of 3.05%. That equates to as many as 60 million people – or more – suffering from gaming addiction.

What Is the Relationship Between Video Game Addiction and Internet Addiction?

While video game addiction is a broader concept than internet gaming disorder, most video game addiction is associated with online games as they come with an interactive and social aspect. Some online gaming behaviors could be called internet addictions as they only take place through the internet. However, video game addiction can still develop through offline activities – such as a standalone console game.  

How Does Video Game Addiction Impact Academic Performance? 

Playing video games can stop players from engaging in other activities – including educational study – as they forget about everything and fully immerse themselves in the game. There is a significantly negative relationship between video game addiction and academic achievement; the greater the addiction, the lower the academic performance. Gaming not only directly impacts performance but is also linked to problems in school, such as social skills. An internet gaming disorder or video game addiction may lower teenage game players’ motivation to communicate with others and consequently negatively affect their social relationships.