When Tyler started gaming, he was in college and played with his friends all the time. Tyler has lost touch with most of his college friends who game, but he has not cut back on gaming. He has passed up professional opportunities and missed out on family events in order to game. But now Tyler is married, has a full-time job, and is expecting his first kid. He knows it’s time to walk away from gaming, and he is having a hard time. Tyler wants to do better. He wonders if he has a video game addiction.
Mental health professionals are still exploring whether video games meet the strict criteria of an official addiction, but one thing is abundantly clear—many people struggle with when, where, and how long they play video games and online games. Many people also experience similar symptoms and effects with video games as with other behavior based addictions such as gambling.
Another key similarity exists: many people who are struggling with compulsive video game use are benefitting from therapies traditionally used to heal addiction. Twelve-step groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous cater to gamers, and many people are also finding help from therapy.
The counselors at Thriveworks Chesterfield have seen many people struggling to control their video game use, and our professionals have helped many people learn how to regain that control.
Internet Gaming Disorder: Definition and Diagnostics
When people speak of video game addiction, they are often referring to internet gaming disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) includes internet gaming disorder in its section entitled, “Conditions for Further Study,” calling for more research before it is officially acknowledged as a disorder. The DSM-5 does, however, give severity modifiers and diagnostics.
People may have mild, moderate, or severe internet gaming disorder if they struggle controlling how often or how long they game. The symptoms of internet gaming disorder may include:
- Deceiving loved ones about when and how much one games.
- Thinking constantly about games.
- Developing tolerance—playing for a longer time period to feel the same level of satisfaction.
- Soothing challenging emotions like loneliness, guilt, shame, sadness, grief, anxiety, or fear with video games.
- Going into withdrawal when curbing game play—possibly experiencing moodiness, restlessness, irritability, or depression.
- Using video games as a distraction from real-world problems.
- Attempting to quit without success.
- Giving up time with friends and family or passing on educational/professional opportunities in order to game.
- Guardians and parents, in addition should look for the following signs in their children:
- Lethargy and sleepiness during the day.
- Incomplete school assignments.
- Poor/declining grades.
- Quitting/losing interest in sports and activities.
- Playing video games alone.
When people become addicted to video games or develop internet gaming disorder, they may develop an emotional attachment to the video game. They may look to the experience that the video game offers for their need to connect.
What Leads to Internet Gaming Disorder?
The exact causes of internet gaming disorder are still being studied, but one theory is that core loops may make gaming an addictive activity for some people. Core loops, also known as compulsion loops, are a series of challenges and rewards that beckon people further into a game’s narrative. Massively multi-media online role-playing games (MMORPG), mobile games, and social media games use these loops extensively in gaming narratives.
With each challenge that players successfully complete, the game rewards them in some way, and with each reward they receive from the game, their brain also releases dopamine. Each reward is tied into the next challenge so that the cycle continues.
In the game, Monster Hunter, players battle monsters and are rewarded with powers from the monsters they defeat. These newly gained powers allow them to fight fiercer monsters which give them powers to fight fiercer monsters and so forth. With each reward, they also receive dopamine from their brain, solidifying the brain’s association of pleasure and the game.
Help for Internet Gaming Disorder
Out of control gaming can harm people’s lives physically, emotionally, and relationally:
- Physically, people may experience severe headaches, dry eyes, poor hygiene, back pain, irregular eating habits, sleep disturbances, and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.
- Emotionally, people may deal with heightened anxiety or depression.
- Relationally, people may drive loved ones away if they lie, miss important events, or spend excessive money on gaming.
Are you experiencing any of these difficulties as a result of your gaming? Are you ready for help to regain control of your video game habit? If you or your child needs help, Thriveworks Chesterfield is ready. We have therapy appointments available for video game addiction.
If you are ready to meet with a mental health professional, know that when you call our office, a person answers our phone. Many new clients have their first appointment within 24 hours of their call. We offer evening and weekend sessions. We also accept many forms of insurance.
Call Thriveworks Chesterfield to get started.