What Is Video Game Addiction?

Video game addiction is a real mental health condition affecting millions of people around the world.

The World Health Organization recognizes it as “Gaming Disorder” in their International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Although billions of people play video games, the majority of them do not have an addiction, and the World Health Organization estimates the number of those who do struggle with an addiction is 3-4%. The difference between a healthy fun gaming hobby and an addiction is the negative impact the activity is having in your life.

Typically an addict will have a level of severity resulting in “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” and the pattern of gaming behavior is “normally evident over a period of at least 12 months in order for a diagnosis to be assigned, although the required duration may be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and symptoms are severe.”

What Causes Video Game Addiction?

Video games are intentionally designed using state-of-the-art behavior psychology to keep you hooked. Games are immersive experiences that provide you with a high amount of dopamine, and overexposure to this level of stimulation can cause structural changes to your brain.

You begin to live in a world where you expect instant gratification. Games are so immersive that it’s easy to play for hours and hours without even noticing that a minute has gone by. They allow you to escape and see measurable progress. They are social, and create an environment where you feel safe and in control.

Game developers also deploy manipulative game design features such as in-app purchases, micro-transactions, and loot boxes that some governments have declared illegal – because they are a form of gambling. Video game addiction exists because game companies are billion dollar industries and the more people they have hooked on games, the more money they make.

What Are the Signs of Video Game Addiction?

The American Psychiatric Association has identified nine warning signs to watch for when it comes to video game addiction. Although these can be helpful to better understand the severity of your own situation, it’s important to always seek the advice of a professional.

  1. Preoccupation with video games. The individual thinks about previous gaming activity or anticipates playing the next game; Gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away. These symptoms are typically described as irritability, anxiety, boredom, cravings, or sadness.
  3. Tolerance – the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in video games. This may be motivated by a need for completion of increasingly intricate, time-consuming, or difficult goals to achieve satisfaction and/or reduce fears of missing out.
  4. Unsuccessful attempts to control the participation in video games.
  5. Loss of interests in previous hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, video games.
  6. Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems. The individual continues to play despite negative impact.
  7. Has deceived family members, therapists, or others regarding their gaming.
  8. Use of video games to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety).
  9. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity because of participation in video games.

If you meet five (or more) of the following warning signs in a 12-month period, you may have an addiction and should seek the help of a professional immediately.

Effects of Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction is a compulsive mental health disorder that can cause severe damage in one’s life. It’s common for a video game addict to spend over 10 hours a day gaming, usually well into the night, and many suffer from sleep deprivation. Immersed in their experience, gamers are known to have poor diets consisting mainly of energy drinks full of caffeine and sugar. Many are dehydrated and malnourished.

In more severe cases, gaming addicts report agoraphobia – a type of anxiety disorder in which they fear leaving the house – and others identify with hikikomori — a term popularized in Japan as reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life.

Gaming addicts tend to be moody and irritable, depressed, physically aggressive, and refuse to go to school or work due to gaming. To be a gaming addict is to experience functional impairment in multiple areas of your life, and the long-term effects can be devastating. Gaming addicts fail out of college. They get divorced. And they struggle with unemployment.

Video Game Addiction Self-Assessment

If you would like to screen yourself for a video game addiction, read the nine warning signs and symptoms above, or take our short quiz here.

If you are concerned about your gaming use, we recommend to seek help immediately, and you can also begin by starting a 90 day detox.

Video Game Addiction or Underlying Mental Health Problem?

In the debate around video game addiction you often here the objection that gaming is better understood as a coping mechanism for underlying mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and not a disorder in its own right. Is this true?

No. It is widely established in the addiction field that comorbidity – the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient — is common, and gaming disorder is no exception. For some, gaming excessively will be a form of coping with another condition and may progress to a gaming disorder, comparable to the behavior of substance-related disorders, and for others gaming excessively will be a function of impairment.

Whether problematic gaming came first, or as a result of underlying mental health problems, therapeutic goals should include treatment of the gaming disorder itself because this disorder can be the underlying agent of functional impairment, and its treatment might be a prerequisite for effective treatment of comorbid conditions.

Video Game Addiction Treatment Options

The good news is that help is available for someone struggling with a video game addiction. Game Quitters is an online peer support community with hundreds of free videos, a community forum, and a very affordable program for both gamers and for parents.

For more severe cases you may want to seek the help of a treatment facility who specializes in video game addiction. There are also professionals around the world available to provide therapy and counseling. If you are struggling with a video game addiction, seek help immediately. It can change your life.