How to help video game addiction

Video Game Addiction: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

In this Article

  • Signs to Watch For
  • Getting Help
  • Preventing a Gaming Problem

It’s great to do things you enjoy. But can you go too far with a hobby? And at what point does it become an addiction? That’s the question experts are trying to answer about playing video games.

Even though gaming has been around for almost 50 years, studies about its harms are still in the early stages. Different groups have come to different conclusions about whether problem playing should be called an addiction.

The World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to the 2018 version of its medical reference book, International Classification of Diseases. But the American Psychiatry Association’s manual, the DSM-5, didn’t. (So far, gambling is the only “activity” listed as a possible addiction.)

Signs to Watch For

The DSM-5 does include a section to help people and doctors know the warning signs of problem video gaming. These problems can happen whether you play online or offline.

Here’s what to look for in yourself or someone close to you -- your partner, a child, or a friend. You need to have five or more of these signs in 1 year to have a problem, according to criteria that were proposed in the DSM-5:

  • Thinking about gaming all or a lot of the time
  • Feeling bad when you can’t play
  • Needing to spend more and more time playing to feel good
  • Not being able to quit or even play less
  • Not wanting to do other things that you used to like
  • Having problems at work, school, or home because of your gaming
  • Playing despite these problems
  • Lying to people close to you about how much time you spend playing
  • Using gaming to ease bad moods and feelings

Of course, not everyone who plays a lot has a problem with gaming. Some experts say that it’s harmful to label people who might just be very enthusiastic about gaming. One thing they do agree on is that the percentage of players who meet the proposed criteria for addiction to video games is small. It’s estimated to be somewhere between 1% and 9% of all gamers, adults and kids alike. (It’s more common in boys and men than girls and women.)

It may help to start by asking yourself a few questions: Does your video gaming get in the way of other important things in your life, like your relationships, your job, or going to school? Do you feel like you’ve crossed the line between loving to playing and having to play? Might you be using gaming to avoid a deeper problem, like depression?

It can be hard to see a problem in yourself. The amount of time you spend gaming might seem fine to you. But if people close to you say it’s too much, it might be time to think about cutting back.

If you’re a parent who’s concerned about the amount of time your child spends gaming, look at how well they are doing at school and with friends. Having good grades and a good relationship with parents are signs that a child’s video gaming is unlikely to be a problem.

Getting Help

Get help from your doctor or therapist -- or your child’s pediatrician, if the person you’re concerned about is your son or daughter -- as soon as you think that gaming time is getting out of hand.

Studies about treating video game addiction are also in the early stages. One therapy that can help is called CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is mental health counseling that teaches you how to replace thoughts about gaming to help change behavior.

If you’re the parent of a gamer, a therapist can show you how to place limits on your child’s playing time if you have a hard time saying no. One study found that making parents part of a child’s treatment makes it work better.

Preventing a Gaming Problem

To keep the amount of time spent gaming under control, try these tips for adults and kids alike:

  1. Set time limits for play and stick to them.
  2. Keep phones and other gadgets out of the bedroom so you won’t play into the night.
  3. Do other activities every day, including exercise. This will lower the health risks of sitting and playing for long stretches of time.

No one knows whether certain kinds of games are more likely to lead to problem gaming. For the time being, make sure that your child is only playing games rated for their age.

Video Game Addiction Symptoms and Treatment

Video games have captured the imagination of Americans since the 1970s, with the introduction of very simple games. Although the graphic features of these basic programs were primitive compared to today’s complex, multifaceted games, many children, teens, and adults quickly became enthralled with this new pastime. It soon became apparent that video games had the potential to consume a large amount of time as the players tried repeatedly to win. Today, video game addiction has been recognized as a process addiction similar to compulsive gambling, in which the rush of winning becomes one of the primary motivations for playing.

In the early days of video games, most games were available only on arcade machines, which were not accessible 24 hours a day. These days, games are one of the most popular features of social network sites, and they can be played almost continuously on handheld game devices, personal computers, or smart phones. Video games have become much more elaborate, with rich alternate worlds, multiple characters, and complicated storylines. Introverted children or teens may find that they can avoid interacting with “real” peers by engaging primarily with other online players, in the guise of characters with awe-inspiring gifts and powers.

Table of Contents:

  • When Gaming Becomes an Addiction
  • Popular Beliefs About Video Games
  • Health Risks and Concerns
  • Seeking Help and Treatment

When Gaming Becomes an Addiction

Not all researchers agree that video gaming is a harmful or addictive activity. Many people, including parents, believe that video games expand the imagination, give children the opportunity to work collaboratively, and sharpen cognitive skills. Yet when young people spend most of their time playing video games at the expense of schoolwork, physical exercise, family events, or social activities, the benefits of gaming seem less certain.

There is some controversy over whether video gaming is an addiction comparable to gambling, drug abuse, or alcoholism.

Psychology Today states that the comparison between video gaming and gambling is flawed, because there are no financial stakes or material losses involved with video games. Winning a video game requires cognitive skills and sharp reflexes, while winning at gambling is a matter of luck.

The source of the addictive quality of gaming is still unknown, but researchers propose that the process of playing and winning these games may trigger a release of dopamine, a brain chemical that elevates mood and provides a rush of energy. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter involved in other addictive activities, such as alcohol or drug abuse.

Video game addiction is not currently recognized as an addictive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the definitive guide to psychiatric illness. But an obsessive preoccupation with games at the expense of real-life activities or obligations shares some of the characteristics of addictive behavior. How can a parent tell when gaming has stopped being simple entertainment and become an addiction? Here are a few of the key warning signs to watch for:

  • Poor performance at school, work, or household responsibilities as a result of a preoccupation with gaming
  • Neglect of other hobbies or friendships
  • A decline in personal hygiene or grooming
  • Inability to set limits on how much time is spent gaming
  • Signs of irritability, anxiety, or anger when forced to stop gaming, even for brief periods of time
  • The need to spend more time playing games or to play more intensely in order to get the same level of enjoyment
  • Symptoms of physical or psychological withdrawal, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, agitation, or emotional outbursts if the game is taken away
  • Using video games as a way to escape stressful situations at work or school, or conflicts at home

Children and teenagers aren’t the only ones who can be vulnerable to video game addiction. Adults may also play video games for hours instead of engaging in work activities, pursuing hobbies, or devoting time to their partners or children. When adults are no longer able to control the amount of time they spend on video games, or when their jobs or relationships begin to suffer as a result of video gaming, they may have crossed the line from recreation to addiction.

Popular Beliefs About Video Games

There are many misguided beliefs and misconceptions about video games. In some schools of thought, these computerized programs are entirely negative, promoting violence, sexism, and social isolation among young people. Other perspectives hold that video games can be a valuable tool for education and character development, allowing children to simulate the roles of powerful heroes. In reality, video games have both positive and negative characteristics, and the effect of playing games often depends on the player’s attitudes toward games and life in general.

Parenting Science proposes that the compelling quality of video games may not be due to an addictive response, but to a psychological phenomenon called “flow. ” Flow takes place when individuals become so immersed in an activity that they lose track of time. Any engaging activity — even work or school projects — can induce a sense of flow once a person is caught up in the process. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with being immersed in an engaging, educational game, this process can turn into a compulsion if the user is unable to stop, and if it takes time away from other important activities or relationships.

Health Risks and Concerns

Compulsive video gaming can have negative effects on a developing mind or body. Adult players, too, may suffer from the effects of hours spent sitting on the couch or at a computer desk. Listed below are a few of the key concerns for younger players:

  • Sedentary lifestyle: Hours spent sitting at a computer or in front of a device can take a toll on a young person’s body. The lack of physical exercise involved in video gaming has led to public health concerns about weight gain, poor posture, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in America’s children and teens.
  • Lack of social engagement: Although video games require engaging with others in computerized environments, they don’t necessarily prepare children for the realities of socializing with their peers. Learning how to interact with others in a real-world setting is an important social skill that may be neglected by individuals who spend too much time gaming.
  • Problems with concentration and attention: There is some concern that the rapid movements and fast-paced action of video games promote a loss of concentration in players. Children who spend a lot of time playing video games may become less interested in reading books, for example, which requires more focused, prolonged attention.
  • Avoidance of developmental tasks: Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and personal development. In order to become mature adults who can take on the challenges of life, teenagers must learn how to confront painful emotions and awkward social experiences. When used appropriately, fantasy roleplaying video games can help children learn and apply valuable character traits that may help them in their interactions with others. But when video gaming is used as an escape mechanism, it allows children to avoid the developmental challenges of growing up.
  • Increased aggression or violence: Children and teens who devote a lot of time to playing video games that focus on combat, fighting, or violence may display more signs of aggression than those who don’t play these games. Parents must be aware of the content of video games, which are subject to a rating system similar to the one applied to films. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) posts guidelines and ratings for popular games based on the age of the player, as well as educational resources for parents and parental game controls.
  • Seizures and repetitive stress injuries: The British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an article about the risks of video gaming for players who have epilepsy or other seizure disorders. The flickering graphics, lights, and colors of video game displays may trigger seizure activity in some players. There is also evidence that compulsive game playing may lead to repetitive stress injuries of the wrists or hands.

Seeking Help and Treatment

Video games have had a tremendous impact — both positive and negative — on the cultural attitudes, psychological development, and lifestyle choices of both children and adults. While these games can be viewed as a risk to players’ physical or emotional health, they have also been promoted as effective educational tools and have even been used for physical or cognitive rehabilitation in clinical settings. Yet for individuals who have become caught in a cycle of compulsive gaming, video games can become destructive.The growing popularity of video games has created a new awareness of the problem of compulsive gaming, which in turn has led to the development of treatment programs for this addictive process. Treatment for video game addiction focuses on behavioral modification therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), that guide the client away from the obsessive thought patterns and obsessive habits of addiction. Group therapy is a valuable source of motivation and moral support, especially for individuals who have lost contact with friends or peers as a result of their game addiction. Family or marriage counseling can help educate loved ones about the disorder and create a more stable home environment.

Clients who are diagnosed with co-occurring depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other psychiatric conditions may require medication therapy with antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. If substance abuse is a factor, the client will need medical detox followed by specialized treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.

Depending on the severity of the addictive behavior and the co-occurrence of other medical or psychiatric conditions, video game addiction may be treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Inpatient facilities offer 24-hour supervision in a supportive, structured environment, which may be beneficial for individuals who haven’t been able to control their video game use. Outpatient treatment, which includes intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), offers more flexibility for individuals who cannot enroll in inpatient treatment due to personal responsibilities or who are very motivated to recover from addictive behavior.

Finding Help

Compared to other addictive disorders, video game addiction may not seem very serious; however, the parents, partners, and children of people addicted to video games can testify to the negative effects of this behavior.
Like other potentially positive activities, video games have their place in a healthy, well-rounded life, but when gaming begins to take precedence over school, work, or relationships, the individual needs professional help. While American Addiction Centers does not treat video game addictions, treatment programs are now available all over the country that address this new disorder and offer hope to people seeking freedom from compulsive gaming.

8 tips to help you get rid of gambling addiction

July 3, 2017 Games

A simple guide for those who decide not to waste time on video games anymore.

1. Keep track of time

Computer games are an exciting process. We may not notice how we spent several hours behind him. It's pretty easy to get lost in fictional worlds and plot twists that will keep you on the screen for "another 10 minutes."

Psychologist John M. Grohol believes that time tracking can help. Write down what time you start playing and what time you finish. At the end of the week, calculate how many hours you spent playing games. Most likely, this figure will make you change your mind.

2. Set the limit

Set a timer to help you with this. Even if you continue to play after his signal, you will still know how much time you spent. And knowledge is the key to your salvation. Perhaps this will help to develop a rule, for example, play only with friends or only on certain days.

Do not limit yourself too much, this will make the situation worse.

In addition to the time limit, set a monetary limit. Determine how many games per month you can afford.

3. Choose your games wisely

Some games take a very long time to complete. Discard them in favor of those that can be completed in a shorter time.

4. Don't be afraid to end the game if you don't like it

Many players try to choose harder games to prove themselves and everyone else what they are capable of. Pacify your gaming ego. This is just virtual reality. If the game doesn't give you pleasure, just don't play it.

Do not take online games as a real competition. No one will judge you if you just quit the game. It's your life, and it's up to you to decide how you spend your time.

5. Earn some time to play

If you neglect your household, work and personal life because of games, then you have serious problems. Try to earn the game. Do not sit down at the computer until you complete the current tasks. Remember that the goal is not to completely eliminate video games. It is important for you to realize that they are only part of your multifaceted life.

6. Watch video game streams

Many people find it strange and useless to stream video games on YouTube or Twitch. And in vain. Instead of wasting your time, you can watch how someone else does it. It doesn't have to be in front of a screen. You can do useful things, like cleaning.

7. Go on a gaming hunger strike

Not everyone will be able to abruptly give up video games for a while. But sometimes it works. If you feel that it's time for you to return to reality, try deleting all games from your computer or collecting all the discs and taking them to a friend for safekeeping. For example, for two weeks or a month.

You will have more time for important things and meetings with dear people.

You will understand that real life is much more interesting and games cannot replace it.

8. Find the reason for your escape from reality

Computer games are a good way to relax. However, gambling addiction is a form of escapism. Consider if you are hiding from something in the virtual world.

If you have problems in your personal life, discuss them with your partner. If you are under pressure from work, seek help and try to find a solution to the problem. This is more effective than hiding behind a monitor.

In the game, we are all strong and hardy, but in reality - not always. But after all, you will not acquire these qualities if you stubbornly avoid the test that life has prepared for you.

Gambling addiction, its causes, stages, symptoms and treatment

Gambling addiction today has acquired the scale of a real epidemic, and this is observed not only among children and adolescents, but also among adults. The average teenager spends up to six hours a day at the computer. Approximately 70% of children are addicted to games like "Game of Ware" - with plots of violence and cruelty. Killing them is the main element and goal of the game. Addicts begin to confuse real reality with virtual reality.

Such a mania is considered to be the result of significant psychological pathologies. With the help of computer games , people try to get away from life situations that worry them or to replace a certain missing element: the attention of relatives, the absence of a loved one, social status.


Possible causes of gambling addiction are considered to be:

  • Various mental disorders (psychopathy).
  • Features of the human character, complexes, shyness, often lead to addictions of this kind.
  • Many people use games to realize their childhood fantasies and fears.
  • Lack of communication. A similar problem is very relevant among children and adolescents whose parents are constantly busy at work.
  • Intra-family conflicts. Often, in order to avoid family scandals, people plunge into an imaginary world, which only exacerbates the situation.
  • Social phobias, when a person is afraid of interpersonal relationships and real society. Computer games help him escape from real life, feel important and strong. The computer for him becomes an interlocutor and friend.

Stages of gambling addiction

Gaming addiction does not occur all at once , there are several stages in its development, each of which is characterized by certain signs and changes in the behavior of the addict. Each stage is characterized by the acquisition of new pathological addictions.

Preparatory stage ,
which develops increased susceptibility to games. Personality traits such as low self-esteem, inability to control one's emotions, lack of desire to accept criticism, aggression, impulsivity and hyperactivity, increased levels of anxiety, depression and stress, a tendency to plunge into a fantasy world, contribute to the development of gambling addiction in adults and children. And this applies not only to computer games. At the same time, a person develops an irresistible desire to take risks and maintain his self-esteem . Gradually, an unconscious craving for a certain type of games develops. If such a psychological state is not noticed and corrected, then the disease passes to the next stage.

Winning stage ,
at which the perception of the game is formed in the human mind as a way to realize oneself, and sometimes to get material benefits. The mind begins to fog up, and even a small win greatly spurs interest. An illusion is created that a person creates his own destiny, while being able to prove his superiority to others. At this stage, person is unable to understand the consequences of his actions . Dissatisfaction and criticism from relatives can be perceived very negatively, as a desire to question the self-realization and success of the player.

Losing stage ,
when gamers find themselves in a closed loop of certain events. Their desire to play is not always supported by the presence of material opportunities. They spend all available money and even tend to borrow money . After a chain of losses for a while, their desire to play disappears and an imaginary understanding of their mistakes sets in. However, if there are some provoking factors (for example, advertising or material opportunities that have appeared), a person again follows his desire, and history repeats itself. The interval between cycles is shorter, the more advanced the disease. Difficult financial situation and constant losses increase the level of anxiety, the player becomes angry and irritable .

Stage of desperation .
Due to the systematic desire to play, the person loses interest in everything else . Problems arise at school or at work, the social circle changes, the psychological state does not allow him to exist normally in the family. Relatives get tired of constant deceptions, debts and negative attitudes and begin to gradually move away. The player often understands that the reason for everything is addiction, however, all attempts to control themselves do not bring a positive result. A depressed psychological state often leads to the abuse of alcoholic beverages or drugs , which further exacerbates the disease. In such a state, people can break the law, sell existing real estate, valuables, take loans. The only solution a person sees is the opportunity to play further in order to win at once to solve their material and social problems.

Stage of hopelessness ,
in which the patient is aware of his addiction and understands that there is practically no chance of hitting the jackpot, nevertheless he continues to play. At the same time, they are ruled by desire to experience the usual emotions during the game, which is a manifestation of psychological dependence.

How long does the pathology develop?

The development of gambling addiction occurs gradually and sometimes can last 3 years. At each stage, certain mental disorders develop. At first, the player is no different from healthy people, then he becomes too impulsive, he develops a tendency to obsessions. This leads to a permanent mental disorder. The lack of self-control and a change in self-criticism provokes the disintegration of the personality. The loss of moral values ​​leads to a state of anger, oppression of positive emotional states, the player becomes indifferent to the suffering of people and all sorts of social problems.

Mechanism of formation of game dependence

The pathophysiological mechanism of formation of game dependence on computer games is based on stimulation of certain pleasure centers in the brain . This pathological condition can manifest itself as a feeling of euphoria while visiting the virtual world. Patients with computer addiction cannot plan their time at the computer. To stimulate intellectual activity, they begin to consume large amounts of caffeinated drinks and other psychostimulants.

The mode and quality of food is changing - beer and fast food are becoming the main products for gamers. A person begins to poorly follow the rules of personal hygiene: he stops combing his hair, brushing his teeth, taking a shower - he becomes indifferent to how he looks and eats . He tends to lead a sedentary lifestyle and sleep poorly. If a computer or smartphone suddenly breaks down, or if the player runs out of money for the game, he is in a depressed mood, can be aggressive with people around him, starts looking for a solution to the problem and, as a rule, does not think about his personal life, work or study . As gambling addiction progresses, the patient cannot give up computer games, although he begins to understand their futility. He regularly escapes reality and plunges into an illusory world, takes on the role of a character and lives his life.

Gambling addiction leads to overload of the nervous system , excitatory impulses enter the human brain and after a certain time a decrease in mood, well-being is observed, anxiety increases, adaptation in society is disturbed. Dissatisfaction with oneself is often formed, the meaning of life is lost, symptoms of major depression . Such people, as a rule, are closed, taciturn.

Game addiction in adolescents and children

This age category in most cases is addicted to computer games, which is severe . Children become aggressive and angry if they are asked to leave the computer even for a minute. Signs of this addiction in children are that they begin to skip school , lie to teachers and parents . Games cause violence in teenagers, since their main plot is murder, followed by rewards in the form of points and bonuses.

The immature child's psyche is overloaded with the effects of the game, and in the child's mind virtual reality is no different from natural life. Addiction negatively affects health and learning, all the thoughts of the child are directed towards the anticipation of the game . Teenagers often refuse friends, abandon their studies, become aggressive. Psychologists say that this mania can lead a child to limited mental abilities and the disintegration of the personality.

Treatment of gambling addiction

Addiction cannot be considered as an independent disease, since it is the result of serious mental problems. It is important to determine the root cause of this phenomenon and deal specifically with it. For the treatment of gambling addiction, psychotherapy, medications, and hypnosis are used. It is very important to apply comprehensive measures. With gambling addiction, autogenic training, psychosynthesis, family and behavioral psychotherapy are also used.

Psychotherapy should be aimed at correcting family relationships, eliminating psychological attitudes (isolation), problems, and treating fears. The method of gestalt therapy is successfully applied, which helps to “close the gestalt”, i.e. solve the problem.

Symptomatic drug therapy computer game addiction is aimed at treating depression, insomnia, increased anxiety and irritability. In this case, herbal preparations of a sedative effect are often prescribed, but most often, specialists prescribe antipsychotics and tranquilizers.

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