Countless factors put people at greater risk of developing dependencies and addictions. While substance abuse is the most widely recognized addiction, it’s not the only one. Behavioral addictions to things like gaming are also more common than most people realize.
Here, we’ll discuss video game addiction which is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 as Internet Gaming Disorder. Certain underlying health conditions and lifestyle choices can put you at greater risk of developing video game addiction.
Let’s take a closer look at what those factors are and how to overcome them.
What is Video Game Addiction?
While any addiction looks different for everyone, the basic definition of video game addiction is a person’s compulsive need to play video games. Like most behavioral addictions, this obsession quickly consumes the addict’s life, negatively impacting their ability to function normally. Everything from personal relationships to work and even their physical health is compromised to satisfy the addiction.
But what exactly causes people to become addicted to playing video games? Different games offer players certain rewards, stimuli, and satisfaction. For example, MMO (mass multiplayer online) games appeal to a person’s need to socialize and feel part of a community. Players get to chat with other gamers, strategize, and reach their goals as a united front. This offers a sense of belonging. Other gamers feel compelled to unlock new levels and rewards. With each achievement, they feel a sense of purpose and increased confidence. Many video games also offer measurable growth, only adding to the gamer’s compulsive need to play.
Risk Factors of Video Game Addiction
In terms of demographics, males between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the greatest risk of developing video game addiction. By gender, 94% of video game addicts are male, with only 6% of females rounding out these figures.
But beyond age and gender comes underlying mental, physical, and biological factors that can put people at greater risk of adopting addictive behaviors, including video game addiction.
Here are the most common.
With nearly 80% of the adult population feeling extreme stress, it’s no surprise that people are constantly looking for outlets and ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga, meditation, massage, and exercise are all common forms of stress relief. For those individuals who crave more stimulation, video games are an appealing alternative to help reduce stress.
For many, video games offer a short escape from the pressure and responsibilities of everyday life. When a gamer sits down in front of their PC or console, they can put on their headset and dive into an alternative universe filled with pleasure, rewards, and mindless entertainment. Aside from their teammates and the rules of the game, there are no restrictions, boundaries, or demands in the virtual world. Gamers can relax, have fun, and forget about daily obligations for a while. This helps reduce stress, at least for a short period of time.
Impulsivity is one reason so many children and adolescents become addicted to video games. But this same risk factor is also present in adults. Impulsivity is having a lack of self-control over your emotions or behaviors. You feel something and react without thinking about the long-term consequences.
The relationship between impulsivity and video game addiction is a complicated one. Some researchers believe impulsivity can cause video game addiction whereas others believe developing an addiction to video games makes people more impulsive. Attention problems, including ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ADD (attention deficit disorder), are often associated with genetic and biological factors. But new evidence shows environmental factors may also play a part.
Underlying Health Conditions
In addition to ADHD and ADD, other underlying health conditions can put certain people at greater risk of developing video game addiction. Chronic pain, for example, can be so difficult to deal with that it drives people to find distractions to take their mind and attention off their discomfort.
The most common risk factor of video game addiction, though, isn’t related to your physical health but, instead, mental. Certain mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and even Autism have all been linked to video game addiction. Similar to how video games offer relief from extreme stress, they may also help ease feelings of sadness and hopelessness in depressed or anxious individuals.
Anxiety is the leading mental health disorder in the world, with over 40 million adults battling this condition. Depression comes in at a close second. Both mental health disorders can cause feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anger, and irritability. To find relief, some people turn to the joy and pleasure offered by video games. This dependency isn’t purely mental, though.
Video games trigger your brain’s pleasure centers which control the release of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals create feelings of happiness, relaxation, and calm. Soon, your brain and body associate video games with pleasure. As you continue to play in hopes of achieving these feelings of happiness, your brain and body won’t react the same. Now, you need to play more video games for longer periods to achieve this same feeling. This vicious cycle and your body’s reward system at work puts people with depression and anxiety at greater risk of developing an addiction.
People suffering from low self-esteem or self-worth are constantly searching for ways to boost their confidence and make them feel more accomplished. When these personal achievements can’t be achieved in real life, some people turn to video games for a pick-me-up. Unlocking new levels, earning rewards, and winning games give gamers a sense of purpose and confidence. Gamers also experience measurable growth as they sharpen their skills and become increasingly better at their game of choice.
Low self-esteem can also make it difficult for some people to form meaningful relationships. Video games offer a social aspect as well through chat rooms and online communities. Gamers who are shy or struggle to make friends gain a sense of belonging within the online gaming community. Feeling well-liked and welcomed can boost confidence and make gamers feel worthy.
Are you drawn to danger? Do you love the rush of excitement that accompanies extreme sports? Some people are natural risk-takers and get their thrills from engaging in risky, dangerous, and even illegal behavior. While this is sometimes frowned upon, video games allow players to take these risks in a safe, harmless way.
Adrenaline junkies are drawn to extreme sports like skydiving, snowboarding, and motocross. Countless sport-themed video games put players in the driver’s seat (literally) of their favorite thrilling activities. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty let players engage in risky, illegal behavior without ever actually breaking the law or putting themselves in danger. Individuals who seek this thrill and excitement are more likely to become addicted to high-intensity games than others.
Treating Video Game Addiction
If you find yourself drawn to video games for any of the above-mentioned reasons, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop an addiction or dependency. It does, however, mean that you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of video game addiction so you can prevent it from spiraling out of control.
Some of the most common signs of video game addiction include:
- Obsessive thoughts about video games
- The inability to reduce playing time
- Irritability over not being able to play
- Canceling plans and social activities to game
- Neglecting personal and professional responsibilities
- Neglecting your physical health and personal hygiene
- Deteriorating personal relationships
- Depression or isolation
Once it becomes clear that video games are interfering with your ability to live a purposeful, productive life, it may be time for an intervention. Similar to other behavioral addictions, there are ample treatments available for battling gaming addiction.
Therapy is one of the best ways to identify and overcome behavioral addictions like Internet Gaming Disorder. You can choose from in-person therapy, group therapy, or even online therapy. Online therapy and treatment programs are designed to help addicts overcome their gaming addiction from the comfort of their homes. These resources include mindfulness exercises, access to professionals, community groups, and a variety of therapy techniques. One common practice is CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, where gamers identify negative thinking patterns and behaviors which can then help change how you feel about certain situations.
Take A Break
Choose between a 30-, 60- or 90-day program. During this time, addicts agree to stop playing video games entirely. While relapse is possible, taking certain steps can help ensure your break from gaming is a successful one. Keeping a trigger journal is a common practice that involves writing down the day, time, and what triggered your urge to play video games, as well as how you reacted to it. Doing so will help you identify and eliminate future temptations. Moving your gaming console or PC into another room and deleting games from your mobile device can also help support taking a break from gaming.
Mindfulness is growing in popularity as a common way to strengthen mental clarity and help you become more in-tune with your thoughts and feelings. It can also help reduce stress, which is another leading cause of video game addiction. Mindfulness used in combination with other treatments can help put you in the best frame of mind for recovery.
Don’t Let Video Game Addiction Rule Your Life
If you’ve recently discovered that your favorite pastime of playing video games has turned into an unhealthy addiction, you’re not alone. With over 2 billion gamers worldwide, nearly 10% are at risk of developing an addiction.
Recognizing the risk factors can help you prevent addiction from forming and let you lead a full, healthy life that involves video games as nothing more than an innocent hobby.
By April Sutphen