While alcoholism and drug addiction have long been recognized by the medical community, recognition of non-substance addictions has been slower in coming. In the DSM, the official manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental disorders, the only non-substance addiction currently recognized is gambling addiction, while addictions to things like food, sex, and the internet are still not mentioned. But even though these addictions aren’t officially recognized, many psychiatrists do take them seriously.
Video game addiction is not officially recognized, but it can still be very serious. A growing body of research, plus plenty of anecdotal evidence, shows that video games can take control of people’s lives, often to the detriment of other aspects of life.
Is video game addiction real?
Substance-related addictions are easy to understand because they involve the introduction of outside chemicals into the body, and these chemicals directly alter the way the brain works. With things like gambling, sex, and video game addiction, no outside chemicals are brought into the body, which makes it hard for many old-fashioned medical professionals to take these conditions seriously.
But the fact is that these non-substance addictions involve brain chemistry just as much as alcoholism and drug addiction do. Even though outside chemicals aren’t brought into the body, these habitual behaviors do alter the balance in the brain and erode the addict’s control over his own thoughts and actions.
Video game addiction fits into the category of “impulse control disorders,” a class of conditions that is officially recognized and includes things like pyromania, anger management issues, kleptomania, and a range of obsessive-compulsive disorders. People with these conditions can’t control their own actions, no matter how hard they try. For example, a kleptomaniac is just as obsessed with stealing as a drug addict is with obtaining the next dose. If we accept that video game addiction can go into this category, then it definitely is real, and it is a serious condition.
Video game addiction dangers
Another reason why video game addiction isn’t taken seriously is because video games are often thought of as silly diversions by anyone who doesn’t play them. They seem relatively harmless, and when we see kids playing for hours, we imagine that they’re just doing so because it’s fun.
But there are qualities about video games that make them profoundly addictive. The repetitive, goal-oriented actions of a video game trigger the reward centers of the brain and make the player feel like he or she is truly accomplishing something, even if it’s just in a virtual world. In fact, many video game companies have caught on to this and now intentionally make games that trigger the brain’s reward centers and keep people playing for hours. This addictiveness, often referred to as the “replayability” factor, is one of the things that makes a great game.
When a game is particularly addictive, it can end up taking control of a person’s life. Among kids, this impulsive and obsessive behavior can lead to declining grades and social difficulties. Among adults, video game addiction can equally cause one to neglect important responsibilities.
Video game addiction signs
The body of research around video game addiction is still developing, but based on what we know so far, here are the major signs to look for:
• An obsession with playing video games at all times of the day, even at work or school.
• Loss of sleep, lack of exercise, or poor diet due to excessive time spent gaming.
• Gaming in response to real-life issues such as depression or stress.
• Continuing to play video games even when other aspects of life are harmed.
• Playing for longer and longer stretches of time.
• Lying about one’s gaming.
• Increased social isolation.
• Feelings of irritability when not gaming for too long.
• Giving up other activities and hobbies in order to play games.
• Continuing to play games in spite of a strong desire to stop.
• Detachment from the world outside of video games.
If you or a family member is experiencing several of these symptoms, you might want to consider seeing a mental health professional. Video game may not be an officially recognized disorder (yet), but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t help out there for addicts.