While many people think of video games as a pastime enjoyed by children and teenagers, the Pew Research Center found that 49 percent of adults play video games on either their computer, television, game console, or a portable device such as a cell phone or tablet.
Video game addiction is a serious disorder characterized by excessive game play and disturbances in normal life functioning. The American Psychiatric Association does not yet consider video game addiction or compulsive gaming a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5, yet many mental health and behavioral health experts consider the condition to be real and serious. Experts believe that the signs and symptoms of video game addiction mimic those of other compulsive disorders, such as exercise addiction and sex addiction.
Even if a gamer plays frequently or for long periods of time, that does not necessarily mean they are addicted to video games. A person who is addicted to video games is more likely to have difficulty thinking about activities other than gaming and the gaming interferes with school, social activities, hygiene, physical or mental health, or work performance.
The major signs and symptoms of video game addiction or compulsive gaming are similar in some ways to those of drug and alcohol addiction. First, a person who suffers from compulsive gaming feels compelled to play games more and more over time, and the urge to play becomes stronger such that they can't resist the desire to play.
The second sign that someone has a problem with video game addiction is that people become irritable, anxious, or miserable when they are unable to play games. A person suffering from video game addiction may also experience symptoms such as significant weight gain or weight loss, sleep disruptions, mood changes, sleep deprivation, they may also begin avoiding friends and family members or even lying about the time spent playing video games. Most times, work and academic performances will also begin to suffer as a result of video game addiction.
Although researchers know many of the factors that contribute or lead to substance abuse problems, the origins of video game addiction are still unclear. Some researchers believe that bursts in dopamine activity play a hand in the development of this disorder. Some researchers also believe that video game addiction has an emotional component, hypothesizing that some compulsive gamers use gaming as a way to escape their problems. Compulsive gamers may also use violent games as a safe way to express anger and aggression.
Treatment for video game addiction is similar to treatment used for other types of behavioral addictions. Counseling and behavior modification are two of the most important components of a compulsive gaming rehabilitation program. Individual counseling helps compulsive gamers address their behavior and motivates them to work toward reducing their compulsions to play, and family therapy helps compulsive gamers address family issues that may contribute to their addiction. The goal of these therapy sessions is to help the gamer learn to cope with the addiction and engage in positive activities in place of gaming.
Video game addiction is a relatively new disorder that mental health and behavioral health experts are just beginning to understand. As a result, there are very few proven treatment methods available for video game addiction and limited inpatient treatment programs specifically for video game addiction. However, using techniques created to treat other behavioral addictions is showing promise.