What is video game addiction?
Video game addiction, also called internet gaming disorder, is a condition characterized by severely reduced control over gaming habits, resulting in negative consequences in many aspects of your life, including self-care, relationships, school and work.
This condition can include gaming on the internet or any electronic device, but most people who develop significant gaming issues mainly play on the internet.
Whether internet and video gaming addiction should be classified as an addiction or mental illness is debated among researchers. Many researchers consider video game addiction a behavioral addiction similar to gambling disorder, in which the rush of winning becomes one of the main reasons for playing.
Others think this comparison to gambling is flawed because there may not be financial or material losses involved with playing video games. In addition, winning a video game may require cognitive skills and sharp reflexes, while winning at gambling is mainly a matter of chance.
Regardless of this debate, any activity or habit that becomes all-consuming and negatively impacts your daily functioning can cause significant mental, social and physical health issues. It’s important to seek medical care if you think your video game habits are taking over your life.
Who does video game addiction affect?
Video game addiction can affect children, teens and adults, although adults are most likely to have this condition. People assigned male at birth are more likely to have video game addiction than people assigned female at birth.
How common is video game addiction?
Researchers estimate that video game addiction affects between 1.7% and 10% of the U.S. population. The estimated range is large because many researchers disagree on the diagnostic criteria for internet gaming disorder.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the signs and symptoms of video game addiction?
Signs and symptoms of video game addiction (internet gaming disorder) include:
- Poor performance at school, work or household responsibilities as a result of excessive video game playing.
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as sadness, anxiety or irritability, when games are taken away or gaming isn’t possible.
- A need to spend more and more time playing video games to get the same level of enjoyment.
- Giving up other previously enjoyed activities and/or social relationships due to gaming.
- Being unable to reduce playing time and having unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming despite the negative consequences it’s causing.
- Lying to family members or others about the amount of time spent playing video games.
- A decline in personal hygiene or grooming due to excessive video gaming.
- Using video games as a way to escape stressful situations at work or school or to avoid conflicts at home.
- Using video games to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness.
If you or a loved one are experiencing these signs and symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
What causes video game addiction?
Researchers are still trying to determine the exact cause of video game addiction and the addictive qualities of internet and video games.
So far, researchers think the process of playing and winning video games may trigger a release of dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that plays a key role in several bodily functions, including pleasurable reward and motivation. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter involved in other use disorders, including gambling disorder and substance use disorder.
Recent neurological research shows similarities in the brains of people with video game addiction and substance use disorders.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is video game addiction diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with video game addiction (internet gaming disorder), your healthcare provider may refer you to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Mental health professionals use the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose mental disorders, which includes information about internet gaming disorder.
Your mental health professional will ask questions about your medical and personal history, including gaming patterns and more.
In general, for internet gaming disorder to be diagnosed, your gaming behavior patterns must be extreme enough to result in significant impairment to your personal, family, social, educational and/or occupational functioning. These patterns usually have to exist for at least one year.
Management and Treatment
How is video game addiction treated?
The main treatment option for video game addiction (internet gaming disorder) is talk therapy (psychotherapy).
Psychotherapy is a term for a variety of treatment techniques that aim to help you identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Working with a mental health professional (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist) can provide support, education and guidance to you and your family.
Specific types of psychotherapy that may benefit someone with video game addiction include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a structured, goal-oriented type of therapy. A therapist or psychologist helps you take a close look at your thoughts and emotions. You’ll come to understand how your thoughts affect your actions. Through CBT for video game addiction, you can unlearn negative and obsessive thoughts and behaviors and learn to adopt healthier thinking patterns and habits.
- Group therapy: This is a type of psychotherapy in which a group of people meets to describe and discuss their problems together under the supervision of a therapist or psychologist. Group therapy is a valuable source of motivation and moral support for people who have video game addiction, especially if they’ve lost contact with friends or peers as a result of their video game addiction.
- Family or marriage counseling: This type of therapy can help educate loved ones about the disorder and create a more stable home environment.
If you have another underlying mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), your healthcare provider may recommend certain medications to treat the symptoms of the condition.
What are the risk factors for developing video game addiction?
Researchers are still learning about video game addiction (internet gaming disorder). So far, they’ve established some factors that may put people at higher risk for developing the condition.
Psychological risk factors related to internet gaming disorder include:
- Low self-control.
Behavioral risk factors related to internet gaming disorder include:
- Spending an increasing amount of money on gaming.
- Increasing weekday gaming time.
- Attending offline gaming community meetings.
- Having a gaming community membership.
Should all people who play video games or online games be concerned about developing an addiction to them?
Studies show that video game addiction affects only a small number of people who play online games or video games.
If you play video games, it’s important to be aware of the amount of time you’re spending playing them. This is especially important if you’re starting to neglect other daily activities, such as hygiene, social interactions and school and/or work. These behaviors could be early signs of video game addiction.
When should I see my healthcare provider about video game addiction?
If you’re concerned for yourself or a loved one about possible video game addiction and related problems, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
If you’ve been diagnosed with video game addiction, it’s important to seek treatment and to stay committed to your treatment plan. You’ll likely need to see your mental health provider regularly.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people across the world play video games and internet games. While the majority of people who enjoy these types of games don’t develop problematic behaviors, it's possible for gaming to become all-consuming and negatively impact your daily functioning. If you’re worried about your gaming habits or those of a loved one, reach out to your healthcare provider. They’re always available to help you.
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