For many, playing video games is a harmless pastime. But how do you know when your hobby becomes something dangerous? Research shows that between 0.3% and 1% of the U.S. population fits the diagnostic criteria for gaming disorder.
While gaming addiction is rare, it’s helpful to know the signs and seek help when you need it. Here’s what you should know about gaming addiction before your fixation goes too far.
1. There Are Often Clear Symptoms
Spending the majority of your free time playing video games doesn’t necessarily mean you have a gaming addiction. In fact, true gaming disorder has unique symptoms. If you’re dealing with a video game addiction, playing these games likely interferes with your everyday life and overall well-being.
Look for these signs if you suspect you might need help for your gaming habit.
There are a few ways your mental state and behavior might change if you’re struggling with a gaming addiction. You likely think about gaming all or most of the time. It’s possible that you neglect to engage in other activities that you once enjoyed.
Gaming addiction might lead to social, professional, and family problems as well. You might feel irritable or withdrawn when you aren’t able to play. Friends and loved ones might express their concern about your behavior.
Playing video games for long periods of time can take a toll on your body. This is especially true if you have a gaming addiction. Individuals with gaming disorders might experience eye strain, general fatigue, and pain in the hands and arms. You might also neglect personal hygiene to play video games instead.
If you have trouble stepping away from a video game, you might play long into the night. This results in a lack of adequate sleep and general disruption of healthy sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation will affect your overall well-being and contribute to the behavioral symptoms of gaming addiction.
2. Gaming May Affect Your Mental Health
Psychologists are still researching the effects of video games on mental health. However, frequent gaming may increase individual risk of developing a neurological or psychiatric condition. Developing a gaming addiction earlier in life may increase this risk even more.
While medical providers can treat psychiatric conditions with medication and behavioral therapy, it’s worth assessing the implications. For example, taking Lamictal for bipolar disorder, and facing potential Lamictal withdrawal, can be serious. So it’s worth speaking to your doctor about any psychological symptoms you might be experiencing from gaming.
3. There Are Known Risk Factors
While anyone can experience video game addiction, there are some factors that might put you at higher risk. Researchers have found that male teens may be more likely to experience the addiction than other populations. Pre-existing mental health conditions like ADHD, anxiety, and depression may also play a role.
Certain personality traits can make you more prone to video game addiction as well. These include characteristics like impulsiveness and a lack of social skills. Researchers have also found that a higher tolerance for violence may correlate with gaming addiction risk.
Again, having these types of traits doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop a gaming addiction. You can play games on a daily basis while maintaining balance in the rest of your life. However, consider talking to your doctor if you possess a risk factor and suspect an addiction.
4. Gaming Addiction Is Similar to Other Types of Addiction
Addiction is a complex condition. It may be easy to dismiss gaming addiction, as it might not seem as serious as substance abuse. In fact, some people do challenge the legitimacy of the gaming addiction diagnosis. However, experts believe that video game addiction is similar to other types of addiction in several ways.
Psychologists liken video game addiction to gambling and food addictions. The dependence on the game goes beyond a lack of discipline. Individuals with this type of dependency lack impulse control and become addicted to the dopamine release the activity provides. Because of this, you might become more fixated on gaming as time goes on.
Similar to gambling and food addiction, the behavioral aspect of gaming addiction can affect your life in significant ways. You might not spend as much time with loved ones, for example. If you’re in school or working, your performance may suffer.
It’s also possible that individuals with gaming addiction might be unable to simply stop playing. If you stash your game away and try to take a break, your thoughts may remain preoccupied with the game. And while this withdrawal isn’t chemical in nature, it can still be challenging. This is why seeking professional help is often the best course of action.
5. Help Is Available
Acknowledging that you may be addicted to video games isn’t easy. You might brush it off as simple enthusiasm. However, as mentioned above, video game addiction can have significant implications for your life.
Fortunately, hope is not lost. You’re far from alone, and treatment is available for video game addiction.
Behavioral therapy and counseling are the most common types of treatment for video game addiction. Working with a therapist can help you break your addictive patterns and build a healthier relationship with gaming.
There are also inpatient programs and retreats available for individuals with severe gaming addiction. In these settings, you can fully disconnect from the games and cope with your symptoms in a supportive environment. Sharing the experience with peers can be healing for many individuals.
It’s important to keep in mind that gaming addiction may accompany other mental health concerns. Your medical doctor or therapist may want to explore other diagnoses like depression and anxiety. In many cases, the clinician will treat the co-occurring psychiatric disorder along with the gaming addiction.
While video games are often a fun hobby, it’s possible for enjoyment to turn into dependence. Be sure to pay attention and seek help if video games are interfering with other parts of your life. Seek support from loved ones as you take steps toward recovery. A healthy balance is possible.