When most people hear the word ‘addiction,’ they think of drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol. But did you know that substances aren’t the only thing that can be addictive and habit forming? In fact, addiction to computers and gaming is now considered an addiction by the World Health Organization.
This year, the WHO declared that gaming addiction would now be classified as a disorder. Most people think of video games as an innocent, childhood pastime, but more and more adults are finding themselves glued to the screen. Half of all American adults play games on either their phones, tablets, computers or a gaming device. Gaming is even more prevalent for children, with adolescents having the highest rates of time spent playing games. 88% of children and teens from age 8 to 18 play video games and just under 9% of those children show signs of video game addiction.
Jobs and relationships suffer when someone has a video game addiction. Furthermore, games are designed in a way to maximize the players’ time spent on them. This is especially true with role-playing games and pay-to-play games. Role-playing games are incredibly enticing to teens, as they can play at any time and any place with a group of people, making the gaming experience a social and bonding exercise. For teens who have a difficult home life or struggle with bullying in school, these games can quickly become addictive.
Video game companies have enlisted the help of psychologists and behavioral scientists when designing new games, and now, games are wholly immersive. And with the technology available 24/7, it is all too easy for people to plug into a gaming device. Since 2002, the gaming industry has generated over 10 billion dollars in revenue, more than the film and television industry.
Gaming addicts report lower levels of self-esteem, problems with relationships, anxiety, depression, and a desire to ‘escape’ difficulties as the reasons for compulsive game playing. A recent German study found that up to 3.5% of teens who use the internet are addicted to online games. Studies also indicate that teenage boys who come from households with lower levels of academic achievement are at higher risk of developing a gaming addiction compared to females and homes with high academic performance.
Scientific research has shown that games increase dopamine levels as much as 100 percent. Reports also indicate that video games that are interactive are the most addictive. People who compulsively play do it more as a form of escape and stress relief, and less because of the qualities of the game itself. Also, children with poor time-management skills and high levels of anxiety are at increased risk of developing a gaming addiction.
What are the signs and symptoms of video game addiction?
Studies have shown that children and teens with a video game addiction display higher levels of aggression in real life. Also, people with a severe addiction will develop a condition called Game Transfer Phenomena, or GTP. GTP is a type of auditory hallucination, where people will hear things in real life that to them sound like gaming sounds. The line between fiction and reality becomes blurred with GTP.
Children and teens with a gaming addiction will miss school to play games or stay up all night playing games and be unable to make it to school or stay awake in class. Grades will slip and relationships with peers and family will suffer. Self-care will also take a backseat to gaming. Gaming addicts will sometimes forget to eat, sleep, or practice personal hygiene. In addition, gamers will often reach for unhealthy, high-calorie snacks and beverages. Couple that with sitting for long periods of time and physical health can start to deteriorate. Long-term gamers will sometimes experience a ‘gamer’s thumb,’ where the tendons in the hands swell and become stiff and painful.
Statistically, children with a gaming addiction will exhibit the following:
- Average of at least 20 hours of game playing per week
- Depressed or anxious when not playing
- Constantly thinking about playing games
- Distorted perception of time
- Difficulty abstaining from games
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness when unable to play a role playing game
- Extreme frustration if the server is down
- Experiencing calmness or euphoria only when playing
- Dry or red eyes
- Problems with vision
- Problems with hygiene
- Carpal tunnel
- Weight gain
- Sore back or hands
- Problems sleeping
Which games are the most addictive?
Games which are immersive and highly realistic have addictive qualities. Also, games that are interactive can be addictive for children and teens who come from difficult backgrounds, who have a lack of family support, or who have trouble forming peer relationships. Interactive role-playing games can give troubled teens a false sense of belonging and they can become addicted to a sort of online peer group.
What treatment is available for video game addiction?
Fortunately, there is treatment available for video game addiction. Even though it is a relatively new phenomenon and not much research has been made on the subject, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be extremely useful for treating video game addiction. The medical community views gaming addiction similar to gambling addictions, in that they are both a clinical impulse control disorder. Counseling and behavioral modification are useful for treating both gambling and gaming addictions.
Also, there is an active link between video game addiction and untreated mental health disorders. Often, people will use games as a way to escape from unpleasant feelings like depression and anxiety. Children and teens who have trouble forming relationships with their peers will fill that void with gaming relationships, which are ultimately harmful.
Counselors and treatment centers can help children and teens learn how to make and maintain healthy relationships, replacing a need for highly addictive, role-playing games.
In a rehab facility, gamers can be appropriately assessed for comorbid conditions. If underlying anxiety or depression can be adequately treated, people with a gaming addiction can go on to make a full recovery.