Twelve-year-old Josh is playing a video game in his basement when his friends stop by to see if he wants to ride bikes with them around the neighborhood. No, he says, not today. The next day, Josh refuses again, and the next day and the next day. Josh’s parents soon realize that he does not play outside anymore, his homework is never finished, and he is sneaking out of bed at night to play video games. Josh’s teacher wrote them a note saying that Josh fell asleep in class today. Josh’s parents, like many others, are wondering if their son has formed a video game addiction.
Very similar to a gambling addiction, when people lose control of when and how long they use video games, they may have an impulse control disorder. What many people call a video game addiction, forms when people substitute real-life connection for an emotional attachment to online gaming activities.
If you or someone you love is having a hard time controlling video game use, then know that support is available. Many people are seeking help for their impulsive video game use, and mental health professionals are ready, offering psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and 12-step programs as support.
The therapists at Thriveworks Bristol, VA have seen many patients who are ready to take back control over their gaming, and we have helped them find freedom.
What Is Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction or internet gaming disorder is similar to a gambling addiction—it is a behavior addiction that occurs when people become emotionally attached to gaming. The disorder is not about how much time people spend playing video games, but it is about whether people have control over their video game use. The signs of the disorder are very similar to those of any other addiction:
- Building up a tolerance to gaming—using the game for longer periods to feel satisfied.
- Preoccupation and obsession with the game.
- Playing video games to escape real-life problems.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms—feeling moody, restless, irritable, or depressed when trying to stop playing.
- Prioritizing gaming over one’s family, friends, job, or education.
- Lying about game use.
- Using video games to soothe difficult emotions such as guilt, sadness, anxiety, or depression.
- In particular, parents should be aware of these warning signs in their children:
- Fatigue (especially falling asleep at school and during the day).
- Incomplete school work.
- Declining/failing grades.
- Quitting other activities (sports, clubs, et cetera).
- Playing video games alone.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists Internet Gaming Disorder as a condition that deserves further research and study. Although the DSM-5 has not officially listed it as a disorder, it gives diagnostics and severity modifiers.
Internet Gaming Disorder: How Does It Start?
Researchers are still studying the causes of internet gaming disorder, but many are pointing to compulsion loops as a cause. Video games often have reward systems built into their storylines that keep users coming back for more. In particular, massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG), social networking games, and mobile games utilize compulsion loops or core loops to give users rewards that release dopamine in their brains and thus associate playing with a feeling of pleasure.
In a core or compulsion loop, players perform a task, receive a reward, and then are shown another task that leads to another reward. For example, in the game, Monster Hunter, players battle monsters, and when they defeat a monster, they gain some of its power. With their newly won powers, they can battle more ferocious monsters to gain more power to battle more monsters, and so forth. With each win and each new power that is gained, dopamine is release and players associate happy feelings with their game use.
Effects of Compulsive Gaming
Although video game addiction is not an officially recognized addiction, many mental health professionals acknowledge the devastating effects of compulsive gaming. Many of these effects are similar to other chemical and behavior addictions, including relational, emotional, and physical challenges.
- Relational problems: time spent gaming often harms real-world relationships, especially when people lie about their gaming. Money spent on equipment or monthly fees for gaming can also cause strain.
- Emotional problems: having an on-line avatar or alter-persona can lead to emotional difficulties in real life, especially if the double life is being used to avoid real-life challenges.
- Physical problems: impulsive gaming can lead to Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, back pain, sleep disturbances, acute headaches, irregular eating habits, and relaxed personal hygiene habits.
Treatment for Compulsive Gaming at Thriveworks Bristol, VA
Help is available if you or your loved one may be struggling with when and how long you play video games. Like other addictions, psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, and 12-step programs are available to help people regain control over their gaming habits. A mental health professional can often guide people toward the best treatment for them.
At Thriveworks Bristol, our therapists have helped many people find the right combination of treatment for their compulsive gaming habits. We work with each client individually, offering holistic and unique care.
If you are ready to talk to a therapist about your gaming, know that if you call our office today, you may have your first appointment tomorrow. We offer weekend and evening appointments, and we accept many insurance plans.
Our hope is that every client received the care they need when they need it. Are you ready to get started? So are we. Call Thriveworks Bristol today.