Virtual Chaos: Understanding Video Game Addiction

Compared to the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, the term “video game addiction” may sound a little overdramatic. How can a game set in a fictional reality lead to the same harmful effects as an illicit substance? And, even though video games are well-known for their unhealthy lack of exercise, is gaming so bad it can lead to serious consequences? Video games are fun, and they are an entertaining way to relieve stress!

However, for some, there comes a point where video games stop being fun and start being destructive, even deadly. A brief comb of the internet warrants a string of hits where video game addiction led to horrible ramifications like child neglect, suicide, and murder. In China, the country with the highest number of internet users, there are even boot camp-like facilities designed to treat video game and internet addiction. So, is video game addiction real? Many experts say yes, and, like other forms of addiction, it should be taken seriously.

Diagnosing Addiction

The American Psychiatric Association does not yet officially recognize video game addiction as a formal mental health disorder. The APA has deemed video game and internet addiction an area where more clinical trials and research is necessary before it can be added to their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This does not mean that video game addiction should be dismissed as a false diagnosis. A 2009 study by the University of Iowa found that about 1 in 10 game players between the ages of 8 and 18 demonstrated the same pathological characteristics as gambling addicts. Numerous researchers and psychologists have yielded similar results, concluding that the overuse of video games can result in behavioral and cognitive effects, not unlike those experienced in drug and alcohol addicts.

Even with comparable effects, there are a few important differences between video game addiction and substance abuse. Video game addiction is considered a process and behavioral addiction, where addicts become hooked on an activity rather than something they ingest. Process addicts repeatedly engage in a designated behavior that leads to destructive consequences, such as gambling or shopping. Process addictions are highly connected to impulse control disorders because addicts are unable to resist their urge to take part in the activity they’ve grown addicted to, no matter how serious the ramifications are physically, mentally, financially, or otherwise.

When a Hobby Goes Too Far

Before you throw out your XBOX, it’s important to note that not everyone who plays video games, even on a regular basis or for extended periods of time, is addicted. Video game addiction turns dangerous when someone is unable to control their impulse for gaming and begins to act destructively towards themselves and others. These actions include lashing out when asked to stop playing a game, a loss of interest in other activities, and repeatedly skipping school or work to achieve continuous gameplay. Serious cases of video game addiction lead to rage or violence when asked to stop as well as the inability to take a break for basic bodily functions like eating, drinking, or sleeping. Tragic instances of addiction have led to death—gamers have died from dehydration or sleep deprivation, and children have even died because their parents were too fixated to stop and take care of them.

Cases of death due to game addiction are rare, however, and serious tragedies can be avoided as long as parents, family, and friends know when and how to reach out for help. Behavioral addictions are treated differently depending on the severity of the case, commonly using therapy, medication, and sometimes rehab (in-patient or out-patient). In some situations, addicts must completely eliminate gameplay from their lives; others teach gamers how to control their impulses so they can still play, but only to a certain extent.

If you suspect a loved one may be struggling with video game addiction, talk to a professional about the best way to find proper treatment. With the right care, addicts can achieve freedom from controlling virtual worlds and return to the joys of their lives.

Inside the Chinese Boot Camp Treating Internet Addiction The Telegraph
Internet Gaming Disorder
Nearly 1 in 10 Youth Gamers Addicted to Video Games Science Daily
Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain, Psychology Today
Process Addiction Treatment
Video Game Addiction No Fun WebMD

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  1. I quit one of my addictions and then got addicted to video games as I bought a PS4 (5years ago!) For nearly a year I hardly touched it. Now I believe I am addicted to it. (It’s happened over the last 2-3 months) I think I’m going to pack my PS4 in a box, and tape it up, for one month, if I can’t stop thinking about it, I might have to consider getting rid of it. I know this won’t fix the root cause, which is likely not enjoying the reality of the pandemic and wanting to escape it. But if it’s not around at least I can’t get sucked in.

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