Video games are designed to be addictive using state-of-the-art behavioral psychology to keep you hooked. Games are immersive experiences that provide you with a high amount of dopamine, and overexposure to this level of stimulation can cause structural changes to your brain .
You begin to live in a world where you expect instant gratification. Games are so immersive that it’s easy to play for hours and hours without even noticing that a minute has gone by. They allow you to escape and see measurable progress. They are social and create an environment where you feel safe and in control.
Game developers also deploy manipulative game design features such as in-app purchases, microtransactions, and loot boxes that some governments have declared illegal – because they are a form of gambling. Gaming addiction exists because game companies are billion-dollar industries and the more people they have hooked on games, the more money they make.
Causes and symptoms Gaming Addiction
The American Psychiatric Association has identified nine warning signs to watch for when it comes to recognising gaming disorder. Although these can be helpful to better understand the severity of your own situation, it’s important to always seek the advice of a professional.
1)Preoccupation with video games. The individual thinks about previous gaming activity or anticipates playing the next game; Gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life.
2Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away. These symptoms are typically described as irritability, anxiety, boredom, cravings, or sadness.
3Tolerance – the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in video games. This may be motivated by a need for the completion of increasingly intricate, time-consuming, or difficult goals to achieve satisfaction and/or reduce fears of missing out.
4Unsuccessful attempts to control participation in video games.
5Loss of interests in previous hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, video games.
6Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems. The individual continues to play despite a negative impact.
7Has deceived family members, therapists, or others regarding their gaming.
8Use of video games to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety).
9Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity because of participation in video games.
If you meet five (or more) of the following warning signs in a 12-month period, you may have an addiction and should seek the help of a professional immediately.
Effects of Video Game Addiction
Gaming addiction is a compulsive mental health disorder that can cause severe damage to one’s life. It’s common for a video game addict to spend over 10 hours a day gaming, usually well into the night, and many suffer from sleep deprivation 2 . Immersed in their experience, gamers are known to have poor diets consisting mainly of energy drinks full of caffeine and sugar. Many are dehydrated and malnourished.
In more severe cases, gaming addicts report agoraphobia – a type of anxiety disorder in which they fear leaving the house – and others identify with hikikomori — a term popularized in Japan as reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life.
Gaming addicts tend to be moody and irritable, depressed, physically aggressive, and refuse to go to school or work due to gaming. To be addicted to games is to experience functional impairment in multiple areas of your life, and the long-term effects can be devastating. Gaming addicts fail out of college. They get divorced. And they struggle with unemployment.
Addiction or Underlying Mental Health Problem.
In the debate around video game addiction, you often hear the objection that gaming is better understood as a coping mechanism for underlying mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and not a disorder in its own right. Is this true?
No. It is widely established in the addiction field that comorbidity – the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient — is common, and gaming disorder is no exception . For some, gaming excessively will be a form of coping with another condition and may progress to a gaming addiction 5 , comparable to the behavior of substance-related disorders, and for others gaming excessively will be a function of impairment.
Whether problematic gaming came first, or as a result of underlying mental health problems, therapeutic goals should include treatment of the gaming disorder itself because this disorder can be the underlying agent of functional impairment, and its treatment might be a prerequisite for effective treatment of comorbid conditions.