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Video Game Addiction: Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Effects and Treatment

Video game addiction refers to playing games impulsively till the point it affects daily activities. A gaming addict’s focus shifts entirely to video games impacting personal, social, work, and academic life. Video game addiction manifests as an obsession with gaming, ignoring daily life activities, using gaming to escape life problems, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and relationship issues. 

The etiological factors of gaming addiction are the need for an interactive social gathering, psychological issues like depression and ADHD, and genetic predisposition. These factors cause video game addiction, which consequently results in obesity, musculoskeletal problems, visual problems, mental health issues, and family issues. 

Parenting measures, cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and family therapy are some ways to combat the dangerous effects of video game addiction. 

What is video game addiction?

what is video game addiction

Video game addiction or gaming disorder is a gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming and increasing priority to gaming over other interests and daily activities despite negative life consequences, as defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

Video game addiction is the impulsive need to play games and engage with others playing games while neglecting other activities throughout the day, according to a study by Mark D. Griffiths published in the Journal of Substance Use in 2005. 

In the United States, about 8% of children aged between 8 and 18 years have video game addiction, as found by Douglas Gentile in a study conducted on 1,178 American children in 2009.

Is video game addiction a type of digital addiction?

Yes, video game addiction is a type of digital addiction. Digital addiction is the excessive use of digital gadgets, social media platforms, and video games. 

An individual playing video games excessively and another individual overusing social media platforms can both be diagnosed with a digital addiction. The reason for this is that both individuals use electronic gadgets even though their use differs. 

However, video game addiction is also classified as a separate addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). 

Is video game addiction similar to drug addiction?

Yes, video game addiction is similar to drug addiction. Both video game addiction and drug addiction involve compulsive behaviors and a lack of impulse control. Drug addicts and individuals with video game addiction engage in harmful behaviors despite negative life consequences. 

The only difference between video game addiction and drug addiction is that video game addiction is purely behavioral, while drug addiction involves the use of substances. However, the effects of both video game addiction and drug addiction on physical and mental health are drastic. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Video Game addiction?

The signs and symptoms of video game addiction are preoccupation with gaming, loss of interest in daily activities, escapism, increased tolerance, failed attempts to control playing time, neglecting responsibilities, relationship difficulties, and withdrawal symptoms, according to the studies published in American Journal of Psychiatry, Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, and the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.

1. Preoccupation with gaming

Preoccupation with gaming refers to constantly thinking about video games, resulting in anxiety and restlessness. 

People who obsess over playing games are always planning upcoming gaming sessions and thinking about the time they have already spent playing games. This persistent thought process leads to obsessive-compulsive traits that interfere with daily life responsibilities.  

A study by Nancy M. Petry et al., published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2018, highlights that preoccupation with gaming and uncontrolled gaming sessions make it difficult to focus on other activities.

2. Loss of interest in daily activities

Loss of interest refers to neglecting activities which are necessary or were once pleasurable.

An important sign and symptom of video game addiction is a loss of interest in daily activities and even hobbies. This leads to social and recreational disconnection.

Video games became the primary activity for gaming addicts after abandoning daily life activities, states Andrew K. Przybylski et al. in their study in Psychological Science conducted in 2012. 

3. Escapism

Escapism is a mental diversion from unpleasant life problems by engaging in pleasurable activities. 

Another symptom of video game addiction is its use as a means to escape stressful situations. Video games help to escape adverse moods such as stress, anxiety, or depression, providing a temporary source of relief from real-life problems. 

Engaging excessively in games helps an individual run away from stress, keeping their minds busy and content, mentioned Zaheer Hussain and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University in their study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction in 2009. 

4. Increased Tolerance

Increased tolerance or an urge to play more refers to playing games for a longer period to meet a sense of satisfaction and achievement. 

A common sign and symptom of video game addiction is increased tolerance to video game addiction. It means repeatedly requiring extensive hours of playtime to reach the same level of achievement as before. 

Douglas Gentile et al. also reaffirms that increased tolerance is an indication of video game addiction in their study published in 2011. 

5. Failed attempts to control playing time

A frequent sign of gaming addiction is having failed attempts to reduce playing time. Failed attempts show that the person is making efforts to quit or control the gaming time but is failing to do so because of the addiction. 

The person may acknowledge the consequences of video game addiction but remains unsuccessful in cutting back, states Jeroen S. Lemmens et al. in a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions in 2015. 

6. Neglecting responsibilities

Neglecting responsibilities means ignoring work and personal tasks.

A person with video game addiction ignores important tasks in favor of playing games. Important tasks are missed, which results in poor performance at school, work, or daily household activities, as mentioned in a study by Dr. Shao-I Chiu et al., published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking in 2004.

7. Relationship difficulties

Relationship difficulties are negative behavioral patterns among family members. 

Video game addiction could lead to jeopardizing relationships to the point of losing them. This is a severe sign and symptom of gaming addiction that results from neglecting a family member or friend. 

There is strong evidence suggesting that gaming addiction greatly impacts social and familial relationships. One such research was done by Mei Wang et al., published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2014. 

8. Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptom refers to unpleasant physical or emotional responses when ceasing drugs or behavioral activity. 

Video game addicts show withdrawal symptoms when they are not able to play games. They express sadness, anxiety, restlessness, and depression when there is no access to games, according to research by Daria Joanna Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths, published in Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking in 2012. 

What are the causes of video game addiction?

causes of video game addiction

The causes of video game addiction are the need for social interaction, reward system, psychological issues, and genetic predisposition, according to studies published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, and the American Journal of Psychiatry.

1. Need for social interaction

A need for social interaction is one of the main causes of video game addiction. Gamers create a strong community, and being associated with it gives them a sense of belonging. Individuals with a lack of family structure can become highly addicted to this sense of belonging. 

Social interaction is a significant contributing factor to video game addiction, states Rachel Kowert et al. in their research published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking in 2014.

2. Points system 

The points system in games plays a main role in causing video game addiction. It does so by giving rewards or points during the game, which encourages a player to earn more points. Points give gamers a sense of achievement, which can result in addiction. 

A study by Daniel King et al. published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions in 2010 explains that rewards, points, or stages in games are a pivotal cause of video game addiction.

3. Psychological issues

People with psychological conditions like anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can have addictions to video games. These people are prone to develop video game addiction because they use it as self-medication and escape from life realities.  

Gaming addiction has a strong connection with mental disorders due to poorer emotional regulation and impulsivity in gaming addicts, Douglas Gentile et al. state in their study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2011.

4. Genetic predisposition

Individuals with a parental history of video game addiction are prone to gaming addiction. Their genetic makeup makes them more likely to have impulsive gaming behaviors.

A study by Juliane M. von der Heiden et al., published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions in 2019, suggests that genetics can play a role in the development of gaming addiction.

What are the effects of video game addiction?

effects of video game addiction

The effects of video game addiction are decreased cardiovascular fitness, visual problems, anxiety and depression, and family problems. 

1. Poor cardiovascular fitness

Video game addiction has a negative effect on cardiovascular fitness. Prolonged sitting and lack of physical activity decondition the body, which can cause obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

An increase in time spent in gaming causes a sedentary lifestyle and lower exercise capacity in gaming addicts, says Çağtay Maden et al. in their study published in the Mental Health and Physical Activity. 

2. Visual problems

Individuals spending large amounts of time on video games can affect their vision. They can be diagnosed with ‘digital eye strain’, a clinical diagnosis for those spending excessive time in front of screens.  

Ocular motility problems, abnormal pupillary response, dry eyes, and reduced blinking frequency are visual problems typically associated with video game addicts, explains Ioanna Mylona et al. in their study published in Frontiers in Public Health in 2020.  

3. Mental Health Issues

Video game addiction makes an individual aggressive, socially incapable, and anxious. Engaging in violent games and avoiding social life are the reasons for these negative effects on mental health. 

According to a study by Nazmus Saquib et al. published in Addictive Behaviors Reports, video game addiction causes both short-term and long-term psychological consequences like extreme anger, social withdrawal, and depression in individuals with video game addiction. 

4. Family problems

The negative impact of gaming addiction on family and personal relations is well documented. When an individual spends most of his time gaming and ignores personal and home tasks, tensions arise in the family. Selen Demirtas Zorbaza, Ozlem Ulasb, and Seval Kizildag Hacettepe University state in a study in Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice Journal that children with gaming addiction have a non-existent relationship with their families. 

How does video game addiction affect your physical health?

Video game addiction affects your physical health by leading to obesity, musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and visual problems. 

Lack of physical activity accompanied by unhealthy eating habits causes obesity and cardiovascular diseases. The incidence of musculoskeletal disorders like neck pain and back pain is high due to prolonged sitting or lying. Similarly, excessive screen time in gaming addiction causes eye strain that leads to ‘digital eye strain’. 

Norshakirah Aziz et al. also found in their study published in Electronics Journal that video game addiction leads to obesity, back pain, neck pain, and eyesight and hearing problems.

How can video game addiction affect your mental health?

Video game addiction affects your mental health adversely. Video game addicts have increased aggression, lack of self-control, poor sleep quality, poor social skills, and anxiety and depression.

The increased aggression arises from the violence and cruelty of the games, which impacts their social life. Lack of self-control or impulse is not only the basic cause of video game addiction but also an effect of video game addiction. 

According to a study in The Pan African Medical Journal in 2022, aggression, anxiety, depression, and poor social networks are common effects of gaming disorder.  

How does video game addiction affect your brain?

Video game addiction affects your brain by reducing the activity of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making, judgment and self-control

Action-packed video games release adrenaline and cortisol in response to the danger of the game. Adrenaline activates the limbic system, which is linked to emotions, and cortisol affects mood. 

Video game addiction improves spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination but causes structural changes in the bilateral ventromedial prefrontal cortex, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the left superior parietal lobule, as Qinghua He found in a study published in Brain Imaging and Behavior in 2021.

What are the types of video game addiction treatment?

The types of video game addiction treatment are group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family counseling. 

1. Group Therapy

Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy where groups of people discuss a common challenge under the supervision of a therapist. 

A type of video game addiction treatment is group therapy, where gamers gather and learn techniques to control problematic gaming behaviors together.  

Ten group counseling sessions spanned over five weeks decreased video game addiction symptoms and increased self-esteem in gaming addicts, Eun Joo Kim et al. conclude in a study published in the European Psychiatry Journal in 2008. 

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy which helps people recognize their negative behavioral patterns. 

CBT is the most common and effective treatment type for video game addiction. CBT helps gamers determine the underlying emotional motives to play excessively and learn coping strategies to control them. 

CBT involves addressing clients’ thought processes while playing video games and evaluating them session to session to monitor compulsive playing motivators, states Daniel L. King et al. in their study published in Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation in 2010.  

3. Family counseling

Family counseling is a type of psychotherapy focused on finding solutions for challenges in family life. 

Since video game addiction can arise from an unhealthy family environment, lack of parental attention, and over-expectations, family counseling is an adequate treatment option. 

Multidimensional family therapy involving the gamer, family and peers decreases symptoms of video game addiction within 12 months, states Philip Nielsen et al. in their study conducted on 42 gamers published in 2021.  

How to prevent a gaming problem?

Parenting measures, setting time limits, encouraging other activities, and keeping gaming devices in lounges or common rooms are the ways to prevent a gaming problem. 

Parents providing a healthy home environment, engaging daily with children, and playing together with children reduce the chances of video game addiction in their children. Argiris V. Karapetsas further recommends in his study in Encephalos that parents should set gaming time limits and encourage children to engage in other activities like socializing and new hobbies to prevent video game addiction.  

Is there a video game addiction test?

Yes, there is a video game addiction test to measure video game addiction. The test defines gaming addiction as a behavioral addiction. The video game addiction test incorporates gaming in all modes and on devices. It contains 14 items, including the compulsive internet use scale. 

Antonius J. van Rooij et al. proved that the video game addiction test is a valid and reliable tool. Although there are multiple other video game addiction tests, this is the only valid and reliable tool.

Is video game addiction a disease?

Yes, video game addiction is a disease, as classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). 

Can video game addiction lead to depression?

Yes, video game addiction can lead to depression. Gamers use video gaming as an escape from painful life realities that result in loss of real-life experiences and neglect of personal needs, which leads to depression, Elfrid Krossbakken et al. explain in their study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2018. 

Is video game addiction a disability?

No, video game addiction is not a disability. However, it can become a disability and a liability if it affects daily life and family responsibilities. 

Why is gaming addiction so common in teens?

Gaming addiction is so common in teens because they’re addicted to dopamine highs after triggering the brain’s reward center, post-playing. Teen gamers resort to pathological gaming due to family neglect, depression, and bullying. Gaming becomes their escape and a coping strategy from painful real-life problems. 

Is video game addiction a choice?

Yes, video game addiction is a choice initially, but with time, gamers start depending on the dopamine highs to function for daily activities. This is when video game addiction does not stay under free will.

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