Process Addictions

What is Video Gaming Use Disorder?

Video gaming use disorder, more commonly called video game addiction, is the inability to regulate video game play both on- and offline. A type of process addiction, video game disorder or internet gaming disorder is characterized by compulsive and problematic video game playing that impairs the gamer's ability to function normally in certain areas of life. The one resounding trait is that the person is unable to control the amount of time spent on video game use.

While there is some debate over the validity of calling excessive online gaming an addiction, the millions of people that play excessive hours of games like Fortnite and Call of Duty give cause for the concern. In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized gaming disorder as a mental health condition in the 11th Edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), and gaming disorder was included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an addictive diagnosis.

Who is Vulnerable to Gaming Disorders?

Gaming disorders can impact almost anyone but mostly this type of behavioral addiction is found in teens and young adults: specifically, individuals who feel lonely, isolated, or misunderstood and who resonate with the imaginary world of online games and online gaming.

It seems that in some individuals, online games may function as substitutions for real-life and real world interpersonal relationships. Video games can also provide individuals with the opportunity to reinvent themselves (in the form of an avatar or character) in a way that compensates for perceived personal deficiencies or perceived lack of social skills. It's also common for individuals who are addicted to online gaming to suffer from mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. Gaming addiction may also lead to the development of co-occurring conditions.

How Does Video Game Addiction Affect The Body and Brain?

A gaming disorder impacts the brain in much the same way as other process addictions. The reward centers in the brain are stimulated through the activity. As with other addictions, dopamine is released, inducing feelings of pleasure and happiness. When the gaming continues and increases, the brain becomes accustomed to having increased levels of ‘feel good’ chemicals brought on by the behavior.

Once the brain and body become dependent on this increase of chemicals, the addicted individual then relies on the activity to experience those same pleasurable feelings again. As the brain continues to be flooded by these neurotransmitters, an individual more prone to addiction may begin to crave and participate in gaming at unhealthy levels.

When the individual continues the gaming behavior at the expense of work, school, family, loved ones and friends, researchers and mental health providers say that this indicates an addiction.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

If you are concerned that you or a loved one have a video game use problem, consider the following signs of video game addiction set forth in the WHO's ICD-11 and the American Psychiatric Association's DSM-V:

  • An inability to control time spent gaming
  • Continuing to play video games despite negative consequences
  • Making gaming a priority over other interests and hobbies
  • Being preoccupied with playing video games
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not playing or when attempting to cut down
  • Developing tolerance, i.e. needing to play more or play more intense games
  • Losing control over how much time spent gaming
  • Lying about gaming habits and time spent gaming
  • Playing games to feel better emotionally or escape feelings
  • Risking the loss of a relationship, job, or future opportunities to game

Other indicators include the inability to cease play, cravings for more gaming, feelings of emptiness, depression, irritability when not gaming, withdrawal from friends and family, interference with work or school, dry eyes, carpal tunnel syndrome, and sleep disturbances.

Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction Withdrawal

A process or behavioral addiction such as video gaming differs from a substance use or alcohol use disorder, especially when it comes to withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms from gaming don’t involve direct physical symptoms, however, there can be physical symptoms brought on by the psychological withdrawal. When it comes to withdrawal symptoms of any addiction, the signs can vary from one person to the next. Here are some of the more common gaming withdrawal symptoms:

  • Intense cravings or urges to game
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Moodiness

If you or someone you love is playing video games for excessive amounts of time then you or they could have a gaming disorder. The sooner you or your loved one gets help the better. Thankfully, gaming disorders are highly treatable.

Consequences of Video Game Addiction

Any type of addiction can—and does—result in negative consequences. This is true with process addictions such as gaming disorder as much as with substance use disorders. Many times people think that since process addictions don’t involve drugs or alcohol there aren’t detrimental effects. This is simply not true. Process addictions such as video game addiction can cause serious and ongoing problems in a person’s life. It’s also important to be aware that internet addiction disorders such as video gaming have been linked to developing other addictions.

One of the negative effects of video game addiction is the increased risk of developing a mental health problem such as depression, anxiety, or social anxiety. Adults and young adults who game too much have been found to suffer from these mental health woes more than adolescents who do.

In addition to these mental health consequences, an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder has also been connected to internet addiction disorders including gaming.

There are also physical health consequences of a video game addiction. The most common are problems with sleep and somatization. Somatization is when someone experiences and expresses psychological problems in their physical health. For example, anxiety is a mental health disorder but people with undiagnosed anxiety may seek medical treatment for shortness of breath or high blood pressure.

Treatment for Video Game Addiction

Treatments for online gaming addictions vary, but most treatment options address underlying causes of addiction, such as depression, loneliness, or feelings of social inadequacy. If a substance use disorders is concurrent with gaming addiction, it must be addressed before a gaming addiction can be treated. Also, any co-occurring disorders such as ADHD, or another mental illness, must also be addressed in therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be helpful in treating gaming disorders. This approach helps the individual develop new thought patterns around certain behaviors and employ healthier coping skills. Group therapy and inpatient treatment have also helped individuals with a video gaming addiction recover.

If you are a parent or caregiver of an adolescent or young adult and feel their gaming behaviors are interfering with their schoolwork or having other negative effects, it’s important to set some boundaries early on to prevent it from becoming a problem. Setting time limits and having your loved one engage in other activities on a regular basis are two ways to help prevent a video gaming habit from becoming an addiction.

Video gaming addictions can be destructive and damaging. It’s important to seek professional help if you think you or a loved one may have an issue. Caron utilizes evidence-based programs to help those with a video game addiction find recovery. We offer real results and real care. Learn more about how we can help with an internet or video game disorder online or call us at 1-800-854-6023.

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