Getting the kids to turn off the video games and do their homework. Asking your partner to please tear him- or herself away from the hundredth game of Candy Crush and please help prepare dinner—and take a break from that gaming addiction.
Do any of these sound familiar? Heck, maybe you’ve even gotten involved in an intense game of Words with Friends against a friend and you can’t help but check in every few seconds to see if it’s your turn yet. You’ve probably laughed to yourself, “I am so addicted to this game!”
But like smartphone addiction, can you actually be addicted to video and internet games? Or is this just a sign of something else? And what can you do if you or a loved one is spending an unhealthy amount of time playing video games, feeding a gaming addiction?
Is Video Game Addiction Real?
For some of us who struggle to understand how to play video and internet games or lose interest in a game after a few minutes, it can be difficult to understand how someone’s need to play can eclipse everything else in his or her life. And yet, it seems that gaming addiction might be real.
In the latest edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” or “DSM-5,” which was published in 2013 and is the American Psychiatric Association’s bible of disorders, “Internet Gaming Disorder” made its first appearance. While yet to be classified as a disorder, it’s been listed as a condition in the hopes that more research will be done.
Are you ready for some scary stats? About 183 million people in the United States play video games on their consoles, computers, smartphones, or tablets, including 99 percent (!) of boys under 18 and 94 percent of girls under 18. Across the planet, 3 billion hours a week are spent playing.
In fact, according to research done at the University of New Mexico, studies suggest that 6 percent to 15 percent of all gamers exhibit signs that could be characterized as addiction.
Worse, in a national study from Iowa State University of 1,178 American youths, psychologists found nearly one in 10 of the gamers (8.5 percent) to be “pathological players,” according to standards established for pathological gambling. These players inevitably cause problems with their families, or social or school environments because of their gaming addiction.
Pathological gamers spent double the time playing compared to nonpathological gamers and didn’t fare as well in school. In addition, pathological gaming coincided with attention problems.
Signs of a Gaming Addiction
Because so many people, especially those under the age of 18, play video games, it’s a challenge to diagnose gaming addiction. And put next to painkiller addiction or alcoholism, it’s often not taken seriously. If anything, this looming addiction is stoked by parents who buy their children the latest Xbox game or iPhone app and see it as a normal childhood activity.
Meanwhile, adult gamers view it like Kevin Spacey’s character in “House of Cards”: just using it as a stress reliever.
But when does the casual game playing become more dangerous and even turn into a gaming addiction?
1. Too Much Time ‘Gaming’ and Less Time Living Life
Compulsive “gamers” play to the exclusion of other interests or activities like school and work. Their lives outside internet gaming or video games are jeopardized because of how many hours they spend playing. According to the DSM, this kind of recurrent activity leads to “clinically significant impairment or distress.”
Meals are skipped and lack of sleep is common because the gaming addiction has taken root. And even when supposedly engaging in other activities like socializing, doing homework, or chores, the addict’s mind is still fixated on getting back to video games.
2. Unruly Behavior and Dishonesty
A major sign of addiction is the reaction when the addict has his or her “thing” taken away, especially unexpectedly. If the reaction is swift and filled with anger, then that’s usually a sign something is amiss. Some addicts even steal to support their habit, including buying new video games.
Also, if the person is caught frequently lying about when he or she plays games, that’s another indication of addiction.
3. Exhibiting Physical Symptoms of Gaming Addiction
- Feeling restless and irritable when not able to play
- Suffering from fatigue from excessive playing
- Dealing with migraines or eye strain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome from controller, mouse, or trackpad overuse
- Stops caring about personal hygiene
All of this might sound slightly odd. After all, can’t someone just exit the game or put down a controller? Unfortunately, for game-addicted people, it’s just not that simple.
Overcoming Video Game Addiction
When treatment is sought, often many prescriptions are written for antidepressants to help with the symptoms. But this brings with it a raft of other risks and side effects, of course.
The idea that someone can become addicted to video games is certainly frightening. For those who play a lot, excessive video gaming can actually result in physical changes to the brain. But it’s important to remember that this pathological playing is nearly always a symptom of something else.
If someone close to you is having trouble maintaining relationships or performing at school or work because of an obsession with video games, suggesting that he or she seeks help is a great first step. Speaking with someone professionally, such as in cognitive behavioral therapy, can help that person work through the issues that might be prompting him or her to seek solace in video games.
In this therapy, the addict learns ways to see gaming as less important while developing better behaviors to replace the addictive ones.
In several studies, the main reason that people played video games was to escape the real world.
Providing a listening ear can also be helpful. Telling someone he or she is lazy and needs to stop playing games is probably not going to cause that person to change his or her behavior. Instead, let that person know that you’re available to lend an ear when he or she is ready to talk.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored “Eat Dirt” and “Gut Repair Cookbook,” and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at DrAxe.com