Video game addiction treatment and symptoms

Learn about video game addiction treatment and warning signs

Video Game Addiction Treatment

Explore treatment options which create lasting change

What are behavioral addictions?

With the release of DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association identified gambling disorder as a treatable condition in addition to addictions to drugs and alcohol. Included in the list of possible addictions rooted in behaviors, as opposed to psychotropic substances, are video gaming behaviors, sex-addiction (aka intimacy disorder), compulsive shopping, and a myriad of digital media behaviors involving screens, like Internet video gaming addiction (IVGA) social media, eSports, and so on. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined internet gaming disorder as a treatable condition in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

What are the signs and symptoms of a behavioral addiction like video game addiction?

Common to all addictions is the belief that use continues despite the presence of adverse consequences. Using too much digital media, or playing too many video games does not mean a person has an addiction. Nor does the number of hours a person plays on a given day. What sets addiction apart from a beloved hobby is the multiple signs suggesting a person’s quality of life is suffering as a result of problematic use. For example, a person who may be developing addictive behavior might exhibit the following:

  • Excessive or problematic use or engagement
  • Preoccupation activity of choice, e.g., video games, eSports, VR, social media
  • Repeated use despite problems caused
  • Attempts to quit participating in activity often fail
  • Loss of sleep
  • Poor eating habits
  • Relational difficulties
  • Not attending to the chores of daily living
  • Poor hygiene or grooming
  • Impulsivity
  • Avoidance of family and friends offline
  • Lying about use
  • Stealing as a way to continue activity
  • Conflict with others around use or behavior
  • Depressed mood, or anxiety
  • Frustration or anger when unable to participate in activity
  • Increasing difficulty relating to others socially

Does video game addiction or gaming addiction co-occur with other conditions?

Rarely does video game addiction, Internet gaming disorder, screen-time overuse, social media abuse, and other tech related problems based in virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) occur alone. In fact, it’s not uncommon for individuals coping with these conditions to also struggle with a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, attention deficit (ADD/ADHD), PTSD, or other diagnosable condition. As a result, many people often find themselves receiving treatment for depression (for example) who knows little about behavioral addictions. For this reason, it is important to treat the whole person, not just one of a host of many problems a person may be experiencing. Likewise, individuals who develop a behavioral addiction to digital media, video games, or screen use, may also be at risk for other addictions. This is known as addiction interaction disorder, or AID. At reSTART. we frequently see gamers who use marijuana for instance.

Co-morbid conditions include:

  • Depression (most common among problematic users)
  • Mood disorders (depression, anxiety)
  • Trauma (divorce, abuse, violence, accidents, medical trauma, family trauma)
  • Chemical dependency (alcohol and marijuana is positively correlated with video game addiction)
  • Attention Deficit ADD/ADHD (impulsivity, distractibility, focused while gaming, may use stimulants to game)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (virtual autism, features of ASD)

What types of problems are associated with compulsive Internet use?

Problems associated with addictive behaviors vary by individual. Over time, problems grow in intensity and severity. Some commonalities between the behavioral addictions and substances exist.

Video game addiction is highly correlated with

  • Intensity in symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Expressed suicidal intent if device, game or Internet is taken away
  • Academic failure not due to intelligence, but rather a result of performance issues (not showing up for class, neglecting to study, school avoidance)
  • Relationship conflicts (fighting with parents, friends, spouse or loved-ones) about use
  • Neglecting self care (poor hygiene, disheveled appearance)
  • Unhealthy eating (weight gain, weight loss)
  • Health concerns (diabetes, nutritional and vitamin D deficiency)
  • Fatigue, loss of sleep (sleep disturbances, drowsy driving)
  • Physical health concerns (mouse elbow, neck and back pain, risk of deep vein thrombosis)
  • Escapism (preference for activity over other things that should be done)
  • Aggression (low frustration tolerance, irritability)
  • Diminished social relatability or social adjustment (avoidance of offline social events, gatherings, activities which help develop in-person communication skills)

Are some online video games or activities more addictive than others?

Use of video games, and other gaming, device or shopping related activities increase when intermittent variable schedules are built into the device, product or activity. For example, when your phone dings occasionally during the day, you are more likely to pick your device and look at it, if it happens on occasion, versus if it made a sound on a regular schedule. You would still likely check it, but the fact that it’s unpredictable leads to a strong desire to check. Another feature used to increase our pursuit of certain online activities is the idea of the never ending game. On some level, people seeking challenge hope they will be able to conquer the quest, or win the game. The idea that a person can continually fine tune performance to “win” is rooted into our psyche on many levels. Thus, certain video games and activities are much more addictive than others. A game which has a clear beginning, and ending, with little chance of losing, coupled with only a few obstacles may be played a dozen times and discarded. But a game like League of Legends, DOTA 2, Battlegrounds, or World of Warcraft, with countless possibilities leaves gamers wanting more. There is no end to the possibilities of success. And many will play endlessly in pursuit of being placed on their servers leaderboard.  Thus frequent, and immediate feedback loop leads to an ever increasing desire to play and stay connected.

What type of treatment is available for behavioral addiction?

Treatment for behavioral addictions is complex. Unlike those struggling with drugs or alcohol, learning to change a behavior that is widely accepted in our society can be daunting. As hard as it is, coming to terms with the idea of never using cocaine, may be easier to do in a society that frowns on cocaine use, than saying you will quit using the Internet. When you decide to quit using drugs, people often rally around you providing needed encouragement. When you decide to change your digital use however, people often entice you to use more. In fact, it’s fairly difficult to go through an entire day without the Internet. Imagine if you had a problem with it. Thus, behavioral addictions are treated much like an eating disorder-systemically, methodically and in a step-by-step fashion. First you learn about your condition, then you make a plan, and what follows is an attempt to live out your plan with support until mastery is developed.

Outpatient therapy is an option, but often requires years of treatment and a willingness to work through multiple failures. Few therapists are trained in digital media addictions, and clients trying to change often leave only to re-engage with their activity of choice between sessions. Programs which suggest a period of abstinence from the addictive behavior, coupled with therapy, psychoeducation, individual and family support show promising outcomes. Likewise, programs which are laser focused on digital media trends, coupled with skilled clinicians who understand chemical dependency, mental health and behavioral addictions are far more likely to bring about lasting change than programs who claim to treat everything. What shows extremely promising results are those programs who specialize in tech use and co-occurring conditions.

At reSTART, we’ve spent 10 years creating a culture of connectedness which offers support for people seeking a healthier, sustainable relationship with digital media. The lessons we’ve learned over a decade have improved every aspect of our care. One of the primary things we know is that it’s nearly impossible to treat everything well. Digital media is advancing at such an incredible pace, that unless you specialize in this area, it’s going to be nearly impossible to truly understand what you’re dealing with. 

Call 800.682.6934 to speak with a helpful treatment professional.

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