Since the 1970s, video games have captivated imaginative minds across the world. While they were once viewed as a new fad for younger generations to enjoy, the scientific community has begun to accept the numerous cognitive benefits that playing video games can provide to both children and adults.

Today, video games are a multi-billion dollar industry that serves the mainstream. Despite all the good that video games have done, they are not without their caveats. One of the biggest issues facing players today is gaming addiction. A new video gaming addiction research paper, posted on Game Gavel, finds that video gaming has surpassed both gambling and inhalants on the list of most-addictive substances or harmful activities.

This issue was only recently recognized by the World Health Organization in 2018. Even still, it’s estimated that upwards of 10 percent of the gaming population is affected by it.

What Exactly Is Gaming Addiction?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a gaming disorder is defined as a compulsive pattern of behavior where a person prioritizes gaming over all other hobbies and needs. To be properly diagnosed, the behavior has to impair several areas of the gamer’s life for a period of a year or more. Some of these areas can include family, social needs, education, and career.

There is some controversy over recognizing gaming addiction as a real mental issue among health professionals. Despite the fact that the World Health Organization has taken steps to provide diagnostic guidance, some large organizations have not warmed up to the idea. For example, the American Psychiatry Association’s Manual and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t recognize the condition just yet. Though, the latter organization has proposed criteria to make that happen.

Gaming addiction is capable of rearing its ugly head at a very young age. Children are highly susceptible to experiencing a gaming disorder. While it does affect adults too, the issue can lead to long-term effects on children under the age of 18.

The Harmful Effects of Gaming Addiction

In the short term, gaming addiction can impair a person’s life in many ways. For children, long hours spent in front of a television screen or computer monitor can lead to extreme isolation. The dedication to gaming often results in poor focus in other important areas of the child’s life. Many kids who exhibit the signs of a gaming disorder have trouble staying awake during class and fail to complete all of their work. Their priorities are on video games, not their education. Beyond their educational life, kids often experience social troubles. The increased solitary environment they find themselves in can cause developmental issues when it comes to building relationships.

Adults can experience many of those same effects, too. However, adults are faced with larger ramifications. Serious gaming addicts must deal with jeopardizing their careers, education, and relationships. Plus, there are monetary setbacks. Many adult gaming addicts prioritize their gaming gear over basic necessities like utilities, mortgage payments, and more.

Long-term problems can slowly disrupt a gamer’s life as well. For both children and adults, depression and anxiety are very common. In many cases, gaming starts out as a way to escape the realities of the real world. While this may help some gamers get some instant gratification and relief, it often causes players to fall deeper into the rabbit hole.

This is especially true when gamers create an online persona. Those with pre-existing self-esteem problems will often turn to massively multiplayer online role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft or RuneScape. These games allow players to create custom avatars, which only set to further cement those self-esteem issues and separate gamers from reality. As a result, many fall into depression, which can take years to come out of.

Physical and Mental Symptoms of a Gaming Disorder

Diagnosing video game addiction is a bit trickier than other disorders. As we mentioned earlier, playing video games offers a lot of great benefits. It’s not like substance abuse where the thing that’s causing addictive behavior is always a bad choice. Billions of people around the world play video games regularly without suffering from addiction. The trick is learning how to identify the physical and mental symptoms of the condition.

The mental symptoms for video game addiction tend to stick out a lot to non-gamers. Typically, those who are susceptible to a gaming disorder will have tunnel vision when it comes to their favorite games. They’ll spend all of their time thinking and talking about the game. When they don’t have access to it, they may become restless and uneasy. Isolation starts to come into play the longer the addiction is left unaddressed. Eventually, gaming addicts may begin lying about the amount of time they spend playing. They’ll also turn to solitude and become isolated from friends and family.

Physically, gaming addiction can produce some obvious symptoms as well. The most common are headaches and nausea. Headaches are due to eye strain and intense concentration during gameplay. Nausea is often associated with first-person games. Gaming addicts may also display overall fatigue from a lack of sleep, poor personal hygiene for prioritizing gaming over basic needs, and carpal tunnel syndrome on their wrists from using a mouse, keyboard, or gamepad too much.

How Is Gaming Addiction Treated?

Professionals can treat video game addiction in several ways. The most common method is to use cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s the same way that other impulsive addictions, such as gambling, are treated. Therapists will work closely with addicts to identify the root of the issue and change the way people perceive video games. Each case is unique, so therapists will help patients cope with the addiction in their own way.

Depending on the age of the patient and the severity of their addiction, other steps may be needed to help them move forward. Psychoeducation, interpersonal treatments, intrapersonal treatments, and family intervention are all common.

The Fine Line between Healthy and Unhealthy

Video game addiction is still relatively new to the medical world, so there’s a lot to learn about how it affects gamers. Playing video games can be a lot of fun. However, there’s a fine line between using interactive media for enjoyment and using it as an escape. Luckily, there are many ways to get help. Whether you’re a parent or a friend of someone who is exhibiting signs of addiction, you can take the first steps to get them the assistance they need, which involve helping them become aware of their problem or bringing your concerns to their attention.

*After graduating (a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away), Khaled spent some time working at the university as an assistant. Eventually, he moved on to conducting academic research on his own and traveling the world with his team. While his work is mainly focused on gaming, some of Khaled’s current and future research papers also analyze psychology, blockchain technology, and AI.