An addiction to a drug or alcohol is fairly straightforward to understand. People develop a physical and mental dependence on a substance that puts their health and the well-being of themselves and others in jeopardy. Addiction treatment centers are primarily designed for these people. Other addictions, however, are less easy to understand, but just as real.
For instance, gambling addiction exists, as does sex addiction. Eating disorders share similarities with addictions and are often treated with similar therapies.
What about gaming addiction? You likely know people who are “into” computer games, but can they develop an addiction to them? An increasing number of mental health professionals believe so.
Addictions are characterized by a person needing ever-increasing amounts of a substance or behavior for satisfaction. When this does not happen, irritability, misery, and physical or mental illnesses can develop. Gaming addictions have these characteristics. Here are four things you should know about gaming addiction.
1. Most Gaming Addictions Occur in Young Men
Addiction specialists say that most gaming addicts are young men under age 30. Often these are young people with low self-esteem and difficulty functioning in social situations. They may be quite intelligent and creative, yet have difficulty making and maintaining friendships. Addictions of various types among other family members may be present. Parents and other concerned individuals can take stock of a potential gaming addict’s behavior by logging when and for how long the person plays, noting problems that result (like missing school or work), and seeing how the person responds to time limits set on their gaming habits.
2. Certain Signs Indicate Addiction Rather Than Normal Enthusiasm
Most people, including those who are enthusiastic gamers, are not gaming addicts. A person’s level of enthusiasm for a game does not necessarily indicate an addiction. Someone can be hyped up about a new game release and dive into it enthusiastically once he or she gets home, yet have no trouble stopping play to interact with others, go to work, or take care of everyday living.
On the other hand, true addiction to gaming has warning signs, including:
- Disrupted sleeping and waking patterns.
- Job loss or skipping classes because of gaming.
- A need to play longer to get the same level of enjoyment.
- Irritability and anxiety that follow logging off of a game.
- Cravings to play a game when away from their preferred gaming device.
The more of these warning signs a person exhibits, the more likely he or she is to need professional help to cope with gaming addiction.
3. Treatment Has Similarities with Food Addiction Treatment
Just as compulsive eaters and people with other eating disorders must be treated bearing in mind that it is not possible to eliminate food from one’s life, gaming addicts must be treated with the knowledge that avoiding digital technology is essentially impossible.
A compulsive over-eater has to learn the difficult skill of fulfilling a need for food while removing conditions and products that prompt the addictive response. Likewise, a compulsive gamer must learn how to use digital technology in a healthy manner for work, school, or socializing without triggering addictive gaming behavior. It is not easy, but it can be done.
4. The Body Responds Physically to Gaming
Clearly, when a person ingests an illicit substance or alcohol, the body responds physically. Eventually, that physical response can cause serious withdrawal if the drug is stopped suddenly. With gaming, the response is subtler, but it exists.
One reason so many educational and training programs now use “gamified” learning modules is that gaming triggers the brain to release the “reward neurotransmitter” dopamine, which helps with motivation and persistence to continue with a task. Australian neuroscientist Dr. Heather Madsen says that dopamine is a “powerful learning signal which makes us want to repeat a behavior.” In fact, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) says that Internet Gaming Disorder “warrants further study.”
For some people, a gaming addiction requires spending time in a “detox” environment similar to that experienced by other types of addicts. They may then spend time in an addiction treatment center learning to use technology responsibly so they can function in the modern world without triggering addictive gaming behavior.
Make no mistake. Gaming addiction can shatter a person’s life, career, and relationships, and for some, seeking help from an addiction treatment center is necessary to overcome the addiction. If you or someone you care about shows signs of gaming addiction, or if you have questions about it, we encourage you to contact us at any time.