woman gaming on desktop

Gaming Addiction: When Recreation Becomes Problematic

As technology plays a bigger and bigger role in our lives, it also becomes a bigger and bigger problem for some of us. Gaming can escalate into much more than a hobby and begin to disrupt health and happiness.

If you’re worried about your or a loved one’s relationship with gaming, you aren’t alone. A study in Computers in Human Behavior reveals that the prevalence of internet gaming disorder may range from 0.7–15.6%, depending on your age and geographical location. For example, ScienceDaily reports that up to 1 out of 10 American youths under age 18 may be addicted to video games. While gaming addiction is more commonly associated with young men, it can affect individuals of any age or gender.

Gaming can escalate into much more than a hobby and begin to disrupt health and happiness.

What Does Gaming Addiction Look Like?

Some gaming addiction symptoms are similar to those we see in other behavioral addictions, such as gambling addiction, disordered eating, or sex addiction. You begin to lose control over how often and how long you engage in gaming. You find it hard or impossible to stop and prioritize the activity over daily responsibilities and previous interests. Even as you begin to experience negative consequences, you continue to engage in the activity more and more.

Other gaming addiction symptoms include turning to video games as a coping mechanism for inner or external challenges. Gaming addiction has a close relationship with our mental health. Meadows Behavioral Healthcare Director of Virtual Outpatient Services Josh Ulrich says that video games address “the need to ‘numb out’ and escape from anxiety, fear, or stress.” He adds that continued use of gaming creates a learned behavior that requires further playing to feel “normal,” and that the cravings and withdrawals are identical to those of other addictions.

male gaming on desktop

Almost any behavior can become addictive when it becomes ritualized, obsessive, or used as a mask for trauma or mental health issues. Video games offer an apparent escape while exacerbating the very issues they are used to cope with. Frontiers in Psychology notes that problematic video game use can be linked to clinical anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and aggression. This, in turn, leads to a reduction in real-life friendships, the substitution of gaming for healthy coping skills, and a decline in overall mental and social well-being.

Is Gaming Addiction Real?

Despite experiencing or observing gaming addiction symptoms like those previously mentioned, misunderstandings and stigmas may lead to doubts about the reality of the issue. Sometimes, the most challenging aspect of seeking help is convincing others — or even yourself — that there is a problem. For this reason, Ulrich emphasizes that discussions surrounding problematic gaming must begin with the acknowledgment that it is a legitimate disorder with the potential to impact your life, family, and health.

Sometimes, the most challenging aspect of seeking help is convincing others — or even yourself — that there is a problem.

Gaming addiction is a behavioral addiction. Both the World Health Organization, in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), and the American Psychiatric Association, in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), recognize internet gaming disorder as a legitimate condition. These and other leading health institutions recognize that gaming can have genuine consequences, and that gaming addiction treatment may be needed to manage your relationship with gaming.

How to Stop Gaming Addiction

When dealing with a behavioral addiction, it is crucial to address the addiction itself, as well as the underlying issues, rather than simply attempt to stop the activity on the surface. Since gaming addiction often stems from a need to cope with mental health issues, Ulrich warns, “If you do not develop healthy coping strategies for stress and anxiety, [you] will switch from video games to another addiction. The need to ‘numb out’ must be addressed to have success.”

So basically, you can’t just cut out gaming without also looking at how and why it became problematic. You’ll find yourself returning to video games or turning to other unhealthy habits to self-soothe. True success requires quality, professional treatment.

Where to Find Gaming Addiction Treatment

You can achieve genuine and lasting recovery through treatment programs like those offered at The Meadows Outpatient Center. We provide both in-person and virtual therapy programs customized to meet your specific needs. While virtual therapy may seem counterintuitive when trying to reduce technology use, Ulrich says that the majority of people seeking treatment for gaming prefer the virtual environment. Gamers are accustomed to interacting with others online, so it’s a stress-free setting that’s more familiar and comfortable for them.

Recovery involves learning how to engage in screen time in a healthy way and can in fact involve using screen time to find this balance and healing. Comfort and what works for you are important elements of any gaming addiction treatment program. Please reach out today to learn more about how our virtual or in-person outpatient treatment programs can help address problematic gaming and related mental health issues. Freedom and healing are possible.


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