Emmett’s friends just texted to see if he wants to meet them at the park to play basketball. No, he tells them, not today. But Emmett did not want to go yesterday either or the day before that or the day before that. Instead, he has been playing his new game, Counter-Strike. For the past few months, Emmett has spent every afternoon playing, and even when he is not playing, he is thinking and talking about it non-stop. Emmett’s parents are concerned. The other day, they discovered him playing in the middle of the night. They think he might have a video game addiction.
Emmett’s parents are not alone. Many teens and adults alike are having difficulty regulating their video game use. Mental health professionals are still researching whether these behaviors fit the strict definition of an addiction, but several things are clear:
- Many people are turning to online gaming and online personas for connection and relationships.
- Many people cannot control their video game use.
- Many people are benefitting from interventions that have traditionally served addicts.
Drawing from the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, support groups such as Online Gamers Anonymous and Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous have formed. Many people are coupling these support groups with mental health counseling as they battle their own or their child’s video game habits.
The therapists at Thriveworks Westminster are seeing more and more clients who cannot regulate when, where, and how long they game. If you are playing video games longer and more often than you should, counseling may equip you with the skills to regain control.
Internet Gaming and Impulse Control
People regularly speak of video game addiction, and the behaviors they associate with that term fall under the label, “internet gaming disorder” in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). DSM-5 calls for more study before the disorder can officially be labeled an addiction, but it does give diagnostics for recognizing internet gaming disorder and its severity modifiers.
People may have severe, moderate, or mild internet gaming disorder based upon how many of the following symptoms they present:
- Prioritizing gaming over time with family and friends or opportunities for education and career advancement.
- Gaming to avoid real-world difficulties and responsibilities.
- When not playing, experiencing withdrawal symptoms (moody, irritable, aggressive, depressed, or restless).
- Failed attempts to quit or cut back gaming.
- Lying about video game use.
- Preoccupation with the game, whether playing or not.
- Alleviating hard emotions (loneliness, guilt, sadness, depression, anxiety, et cetera) with video games.
- Experiencing tolerance—playing longer and longer without noticing.
In addition to these symptoms, parents should lookout for the following within their teens or children:
- Incomplete school assignments.
- Drowsiness throughout the day.
- Falling grades.
- Quitting activities.
- Playing video games alone.
The common denominator in these symptoms is control: can people control their gaming habits or have video games taken control of their lives?
How Does Internet Gaming Disorder Develop?
Mental health professionals are still studying how internet gaming disorder develops, and some posit that the narratives within the games are a contributing factor. In particular, their concern is about compulsion or core loops that set up a series of challenges and rewards where each reward leads immediately into the next challenge. With each reward, the brain also releases dopamine, associating the game with a pleasurable experience.
For example, players in the game, Monster Hunter, face monsters they must slay. When they defeat a particular monster (challenge), they gain that monster’s powers (reward). Those powers can then be used to defeat the next monster (reward ties into the next challenge), and so continues the game. With each victory, dopamine is also released.
The narratives of many games employ compulsion loops, including mobile games, social networking games, and massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG).
Online Gaming and Real-Life Problems
When people have a hard time regulating their video game use, they may also experience other relational, emotional, and physical problems:
- Relational problems: If people are lying about their game use, spending excessive money on gaming equipment and fees, or prioritizing gaming over time with loved ones, they are most likely also driving a wedge between themselves and their loved ones.
- Emotional problems: When people use gaming to escape emotional problems such as their anxiety or depression, these problems may grow worse and more overwhelming.
- Physical problems: People who play video games compulsively often forget to care for themselves physically, and they may experience poor hygiene, irregular eating habits, sleep disruptions, back pain, Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, and acute headaches.
Talk with a Video Game Addiction Therapist at Thriveworks
Have your child’s gaming habits grown uncontrollable? Is gaming standing in the way of your personal relationships or your career advancement? If so, you are not alone. Many people are struggling, and many people are reaching out for help.
If you are ready to meet with a mental health professional, Thriveworks Westminster has appointments available for video game addiction. We see children, teens, and adults.
When you are ready to reach out, we are ready for you. We accept many forms of insurance, and we offer evening and weekend sessions. Call today to get started.