Video game addiction isn't yet formally recognized as a diagnosable disorder; and it is considered to be a condition that needs more research before it can be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. However, anybody who has spent time with a person who plays games to the exclusion of a normal, happy life knows that video game addiction exists.
Although it is not a substance addiction, early research indicates that video game addiction creates chemical changes in the part of the brain responsible for pleasure, much like an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Like a substance addiction, it can result in withdrawal symptoms upon stopping, and relapse is common.
Studies indicate that approximately 10 to 15 percent of gamers become addicted, and that video game addiction affects men and boys more often than women and girls. It is seen most often with college-age males. However, it is important to remember that not all Internet gamers will become addicted. Many people are able to enjoy video games reasonably without threatening social life, relationships, careers, academics or finances.
According to the University Counseling Center at Notre Dame University, recent research conducted with college students indicates that students who are addicted are involved in gaming for at least eight to nine hours per week. At this level, gaming is correlated with personal problems and social withdrawal. Gamers who average three hours per week display fewer signs of addiction, while occasional, non-addicted gamers generally spend only about two hours or less per week and display no addictive characteristics.
If you are concerned that casual gaming is becoming an addiction, there are several warning signs to watch for:
- A person who is addicted to online gaming is preoccupied with the game, even during his off-line time.
- Internet gamers who are addicted will eventually develop a tolerance, and more gaming time is required to produce the same “high.” This is much like the tolerance that results from dependence on drugs and alcohol.
- Hours can fly by and addicted gamers may lose track of time. An addicted person may be on the computer from dusk until dawn, and then sleep all day. In some cases, gamers may skip meals or eat fast-food in order not to loose time on the net.
- A computer gaming addiction may manifest itself in physical symptoms such as stiff neck, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches or eye strain. These minor complaints can turn into severe deconditioning of the body, loss of muscle and bone mass, weight gain, problems with blood pressure, blood sugar etc.
- Addicted gamers may become moody, irritable or anxious when they are away from the computer. They tend to crave gaming much like a substance addict craves drugs or alcohol.
- People who are addicted to gaming tend to deny a problem exists, lie about their online activities or minimize the amount of time they spend online.
- They become socially withdrawn and awkward, aggressive or depressive, their school grades drop or they loose their jobs due to underperformance.
Gaming may seem like a harmless activity compared to alcoholism or use of hard drugs such as meth or heroin, but like any substance addiction, it can lead to ruined relationships, lost jobs, academic failure, mental illness and overall, broken lives. Additionally, many young gaming addicts are online when they should be enjoying time with family and friends. As a result, they fail to develop social skills that carry them through life. Sadly, some die early.
In the modern world, computers are a necessary aspect of everyday life, which makes a gaming addiction different than a substance dependency. However, it’s possible to stop gaming and use computers responsibly. Many addicted gamers are unable to stop on their own, but comprehensive treatment is often the answer and a source of great hope for a normal, happy life.