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Video Game Abuse and Addiction: The Basics

Although classification is frequently a point of contention, excessive video game play can lead to addiction.

The Basics Of Video Game Addiction

In the 1970s, the first commercial video game, Pong, was released to be played in homes across America. The popularity of Pong, along with Atari game console, helped launch the video game industry. Today half of the American population, or roughly 164 million people, plays video games. Because of the rapid growth of video games and the gaming community, the idea that people could become addicted to video games has been increasingly researched and debated upon. The concept of a video game addiction has received both support and criticism from scientists, doctors, the video game industry, and those who play video games.

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What Is Video Game Addiction?

The World Health Organization (WHO) previously only recognized gambling as a behavioral addiction. But in 2018, WHO added and defined gaming disorder in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an impaired control over gaming. This lack of control can include prioritizing playing video games over other interests and continuing to play video games despite any negative consequences. WHO says that in order to be diagnosed this pattern of behavior must be severe enough to result in significant impairment to personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other areas of functioning for at least 12 months.

Video game addictions can also be any combination of the following signs:

  • Constantly thinking about video games.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
  • Needing to play more and more video games.
  • Attempting to control or limit video game use unsuccessfully.
  • Losing interest in other hobbies and gaming to combat negative moods.
  • Continuing to play video games even though it is jeopardizing school, work, and/or relationships.

Some believe that a person’s motivation for playing video games is also an important thing to consider when determining whether their use is an addiction. Those who play video games for social and entertainment reasons are less likely to be hooked than those who play as a form of escapism. Those who play video games pathologically have higher levels of depression, aggression, shyness, and anxiety. Sleep deprivation and insomnia are also associated with a video game addiction.

How A Video Game Addiction Forms

Becoming addicted to video games is a very similar process to how drug addictions form. When an individual plays video games, their dopamine pathways become active. Dopamine directly influences the brain’s reward system. When an activity triggers the release of this pleasure chemical, it becomes a positive reinforcer. Studies have shown that video games can double dopamine’s normal resting amount. Comparatively, drugs like Heroin and Cocaine‘s dopamine can be 10 times the normal resting level. Additionally, some video games offer feelings of positive stress, like the pressure to not lose a life in a video game, which can also cause a release of dopamine.

Who Is Prone To Video Game Addiction?

There are several factors that can inform who may be more more vulnerable to video game addictions. Those who have a high level of primary control, which is the desire to change their environment or the people around them to achieve a sense of control, are more susceptible to addictions. Video games can offer an opportunity to have psychological ownership of the virtual world they are playing in. A co-occurring mental health diagnosis, like ADHD, depression, or anxiety can also predispose someone to addiction.

When it comes to gender, males tend to become addicted to video games more frequently than females do. Males who have lower-level social skills are also more prone to problem gaming habits. Despite this, females who become addicted are 2 times as likely to have the negative psychological effects associated with video games such as depressive symptoms, suicidal behavior, and bullying from peers.

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Criticism Of Video Game Addictions

At about 1%, those who become addicted are the minority amongst those who play video games. Because of this, there is a lot of disagreement on the credibility of classifying video games as an addiction. Some do not think extensive video game play should be considered an addiction because they see it as normal human behavior. Others believe that a video game addiction is not a discrete condition and therefore may reflect underlying psychological conditions. When the WHO defined gaming disorder, more than 2 dozen researchers and scientists sent an open letter to organization stating that their opinion was not based on “good science.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has said that there is not enough evidence to determine if gaming disorder is a unique mental disorder or just a condition. In the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by health professionals to identify addiction symptoms and diagnose mental health conditions, gaming disorders is listed as a recommended topic for further research. The gaming industry points to this same lack of evidence, risk of misdiagnosis, and the positive effects of gaming to refute the classification.

Positive And Negative Effects Playing Video Games

Casual video game playing can sometimes provide benefits to the player. For some, video games offer a virtual community to those who may struggle to connect with others in the real world. In this community, gamers frequently must work together to complete tasks which can help to build teamwork skills. The tasks in video games can also activate involved brain regions which can lead to growth in those areas, such as spatial memory. Additionally, gamers with ADHD can improve thinking and concentration skills through the act of playing video games.

Despite these positive aspects, extended game play can cause many negative effects, even if not deemed an addiction. Repeated use of the muscles involved in playing video games can result in stress injuries. Pain, inflammation, numbness, and weakness can be temporary but may someday become a permanent injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb, trigger finger, or tennis elbow. Many hours spent playing video games can also cause obesity and vision problems.

Treating Problem Video Gaming

For those addicted to video games, a distinct treatment option has not been identified as research on this addiction is ongoing. Cognitive behavioral therapy can assist in reducing the associated problematic behaviors by breaking down cognitive biases and attachments to the activity. Parents who are concerned about their child’s gaming habits should evaluate how well they are doing in school and their relationships with friends, family, and teachers. Having good grades and relationships can indicate that their video game use is not a cause for concern. Those who are worried about their own or their child’s video game habits should speak with a doctor or therapist.

On-line Gamers Anonymous is a community of people with similar struggles. The peer-to-peer group was created by Liz Woolley in 2002 after her son took his own life as a direct result of a video game. Woolley and recovering gamer, Ron Jaffe, supported each other during their difficult times which led to the growth of the Gamers Anonymous fellowship. Through online support groups, gamers can share their experiences to help each other recover from the problems that result from excessive game play. On-line Gamers Anonymous hopes to one day work with game manufacturers to promote responsible game play while still supporting the development of online gaming environments.

Moderation Is Key

While discourse is still divided, video game addictions should be determined on a case-by-case basis by examining motivations and severity of one’s lack of control. It can be hard to distinguish the difference whether one’s behaviors are an addiction or just enthusiasm for video games. In either instance, moderation can be used to improve or avoid the harms associated with playing videos games. Completely removing video games might also have negative effects because online games may where the majority of a gamer’s social group exists. Limiting usage and finding a balance between gaming and healthier activities can help to regain control over one’s life.

If you or a loved one wants more information on video game and other behavioral addictions, contact a treatment provider today.

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