“This fantasy world allows endless opportunities to the gamer to keep feeding their addiction. It’s not the game that is the problem, it is other problems in their lives that they cannot control. The game allows a person to escape from reality and take control of the world.”
~ Sam Schaperow, licensed marriage and family therapist counselor
When most people think of someone suffering from an addiction, they envision an alcoholic or drug addict lost in the throes of their compulsion. What they may not realize is that addiction can take many forms, including a chronic pattern of a particular problematic behavior.
One issue that is unique to recent modern times there is video game addiction. Although it is not yet a diagnosable disorder to the standards of the American Medical Association, it can have significant negative consequences for any individuals so afflicted.
Staggering Statistics About Video Game Use
183 million people in the United States play video games on their consoles, computers, smartphones, or tablets, including 99% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18. Across the planet, 3 BILLION hours a week are spent playing.
A Real Addiction: Hooked on Video Games
Recent studies conducted by the University of New Mexico concluded that up to 15% of all players engage in behaviors characteristic of addiction.
The younger the player is, the more hazardous excessive gaming is. A study published in Translational Psychiatry described a connection between heavy video game playing and potential resultant changes in brain activity and structure.
14-year-old adolescents who reported playing nine hours or more a week produced more dopamine than those who played less, in the same manner of compulsive gamblers. Dopamine is the body’s “feel-good” chemical.
The similarities don’t end there, either.
When the players were losing, their brains produced even more dopamine when they were losing, prompting them to continue playing. This is similar to how a pathological gambler feels when they are unable to stop gambling even in the midst of a losing streak.
Excessive video gaming can actually result in physical changes to the brain. Individuals who play a lot have larger ventral striatum, the brain’s “reward center”.
Dr. Luke Clark, a gambling researcher at Cambridge University, has said, “The stratum is at the heart of the reward center, and that puts video gaming into the context of addictions.”
“Pathological” gamers are more likely to have video game consoles in their bedrooms, and consequently, play up to 24 hours a week, twice as much as the norm. As with other addiction disorders, it isn’t only the time spent that is the issue, it is also doing so in the face of the negative consequences.
Pathological gamers pay less attention in school, have worse grades, more health problems, and even report stealing to support their video game habits. Moreover, they are diagnosed with disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) twice as often.
Douglas Gentile, who is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University and co-author of Violent Videogame Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy, applied poll results from a survey given to gamers to the standards of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Using the same criteria that determines gambling addiction, if a gamer showed six out of 11 symptoms, they were considered to be “pathological”.
“So I measured the way you measure pathological gambling, and the way it harms functioning and was surprised to find that a substantial number of gamers to rise to that level (of pathological addiction)“, said Gentile.
Easy to Underestimate The Danger of Video Games
Because it is a pleasurable activity enjoyed by most people, video game addiction can be difficult to recognize. In fact, some people scoff at the idea that video game addiction even exists, because no one has ever been arrested or sentenced to prison for playing video games too much.
Parents like to buy their children the latest electronic devices and gaming systems, and so they expect their children to spend hours playing.
Adults who play video games view it as a harmless leisure activity that allows them to blow off steam.
The question is – how much is too much? When does enjoyment turn into addiction?
How to Recognize a Video Game Addiction
Here are some warning signs that may indicate that a player may be at risk for video game addiction:
- Playing for increasingly-longer periods of time, especially to the point of neglecting other activities such as meals, sleep, work, school assignments, chores, or socializing.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about video gaming while engaging in other activities.
- Gaming as a means to escape or avoid problems in the real world.
- Lying about how much time is spent gaming.
- Developing co-occurring disorders due to gaming. For example, a pathological gamer will exhibit extreme anxiety when playing time is interrupted or reduced, to the point of outbursts if their ability to play is taken away.
According to a study by Northwestern University, excessive smartphone use has been linked to depression. A depressed individual will use their smartphone for approximately 68 minutes a day, compared to 17 minutes a day for non-depressed people.
- Alienation from family and friends.
- Inattention to personal hygiene.
- An inability to voluntarily control their gaming habits.
How to Help a Video Game Addict
Treating addiction to video games is a bit trickier than treating other addictions. Unlike addictions to alcohol or drugs, there won’t be a physical component to the addiction. In other words, it is not possible for a person to become physically dependent upon their gaming system. Psychologically, a person can be just as attached to their video games as they would be to any drug.
When it comes to other addictions, the goal is to separate the addict from the addiction – the alcoholic away from alcohol, the drug addict away from drugs, the sex addict away from pornography, etc. unfortunately, it is not practical to keep someone away from all computers.
Because this is the case, professional help is often needed in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, where the addict will learn strategies about how to place gaming in its proper perspective and how to substitute positive behaviors for addictive ones.
The key to treating video game addiction is to fully realize that it is exactly that – an addiction. Many of the same strategies used in 12-step programs and professional addiction treatment facilities are viable in this case. The ultimate goal is to help the addict regain balance, control, and serenity in their life.