Battling addiction and ready for treatment?
Recognizing the Indicators of Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction, also known as internet gaming disorder, can be difficult to identify with how commonplace video games have become in daily life.
What may be a harmless hobby or profession to some can be a serious problem that leads to physical and mental impairment for others. Learning the top warning signs of video game addiction can help you better spot unhealthy gaming habits in yourself or a loved one.
If you notice any of these warning signs in yourself or someone else, seeking professional help can help you avoid the devastating effects of addiction.
Top 7 Warning Signs of Video Game Addiction
Video games have become a massive industry in the US and a staple in entertainment. According to Statista, around 53% of American households own at least one video game console.
While gaming is generally seen as a hobby for the young, people of any age can be gamers.
With how popular and normalized gaming is, spotting the warning signs of addictive behaviors toward video games is harder than ever.
Learning how to spot these warning signs is essential to catching signs of video game addiction before the negative effects cause physical and mental harm.
1. Obsessive, Uncontrollable Thoughts About Gaming
Many video addicts experience obsessive thoughts about playing video games. These thoughts often affect the addict’s ability to focus on work, school, or important tasks.
Loved ones of addicts may notice video games are brought up constantly, often interrupting unrelated topics to mention games.
While there’s nothing wrong with being excited about a new game or a game that’s become a special interest, these thoughts tend to be compulsive and out of control. The addict may struggle to talk about anything other than games, even during serious, important conversations.
2. Struggling to Quit or Cut Down on Time Spent Gaming
One of the most common warning signs of video game addiction is the inability to stop or limit the amount of time gaming. Addicts often report intense cravings to play while trying to quit gaming.
These cravings or urges are so intense that attempts to cut back on video game playing frequently fail.
For many addicts, even wanting to quit video game playing is not enough to combat the cravings. Unfortunately, many gaming addicts can’t curb their game use alone and require proper treatment to get their gaming habits under control.
3. Using Video Games to Cope With Negative Emotions
Video games serve as an escape from the stress of daily life for many people. Although using video games for stress relief isn’t inherently bad, video game addicts take this to an extreme.
Playing a game to unwind at the end of the day is fine, but using games to “treat” mental health conditions isn’t healthy.
Online games are by far the most addictive type of video game due to the size of the digital world and the social aspect of playing with other people. Addicts who struggle with making friends in the real world may turn to online game communities instead.
4. Continuing to Play Video Games Despite Negative Consequences
Long-term gaming behavior can cause health issues, both for mental and physical health. Aside from the obvious risks like eye strain and physical issues from sitting for so long, video game addiction may start to interfere with mental health and basic daily activities.
Addicts may spend all their money on new games or transactions within their favorite game.
Obligations to work, school, or important events may cause strife with coworkers, family members, and friends. Addictive behaviors can lead to worsening mental health issues, especially with anxiety and depression.
Despite all the obvious signs that video game addiction is negatively impacting their life, addicts continue to play video games. It may seem obvious to loved ones watching the addiction worsen that there’s a problem, but the addict is unable to see the apparent harm.
5. Decline in Personal Hygiene Due to Gaming
As video game addiction worsens, many addicts struggle to stay on top of basic grooming in favor of gaming for hours on end.
Tasks like showering, face washing, teeth brushing, and wearing clean clothes are often the first to go as playing video games becomes the addict’s top priority.
It’s important to determine if excessive gaming is truly the cause of poor hygiene and not related to mental health or learning hygiene.
Keep in mind that an adolescent who’s still working on their hygiene and happens to play video games does not automatically mean they have an addiction.
6. Lying About or Hiding the Amount of Time Spent Gaming
There is a lot of shame and guilt attached to behavioral addictions like video game addiction. Gaming addicts may go to great lengths to hide how long they spend playing games or how much money has gone towards their gaming habits.
For example, addicts may game in the darkness to not alert parents or partners, hide game purchases, make excuses for what they’ve been doing, or lie about how long they’ve been playing.
If the addict’s gaming has already become a point of tension, they will be even more inclined to lie about their gaming.
7. Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms When not Gaming
The leading theory behind video game addiction is the brain’s dependence on the flood of feel-good chemical dopamine. Gaming can trigger the release of dopamine, and without the constant release of it, addicts may experience symptoms of withdrawal.
Common symptoms of video game addiction withdrawal include:
- Intense cravings or urges to play
- Painful boredom
- Mood swings
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
What to Do When You See These Warning Signs
If you see any of these warning signs in yourself or a loved one, there are things you can do to intervene. The best way to begin is to have an open, honest conversation with the addict. If you suspect you have issues gaming, start by talking to a trusted friend or family member.
If you’re a parent with a child who games excessively, try opening the conversation with understanding and empathy rather than scolding.
By making yourself a resource and someone your child can go to when in trouble, they will be more likely to be honest about their issues with gaming.
Other things you can do if you spot the warning signs of video game addiction in yourself or others:
- Track how long you or your loved one plays video games
- Have open discussions about what triggers excessive gaming behavior
- Increase exercise to help with stress and cravings to play and to avoid health issues common from playing games for hours
- Find other hobbies or obligations to replace time spent gaming
- Set hard limits on time spent playing
- Put gaming consoles or PCs in common areas so gaming can’t be done in secret
- Seek out treatment options with your doctor or mental health professional
- Address any undiagnosed or untreated co-occurring mental health conditions
Is It a Video Game Addiction or a Gaming Hobby?
Determining if it’s a video game addiction or simply a hobby can be difficult, as the two can look very similar. These days, having a gaming hobby is very normalized and can even become a career if you’re good enough to become an Esports athlete.
Hobbies can easily turn into obsession and addiction if the person has certain risk factors. One of the best ways to tell the difference is to determine whether gaming negatively affects a person’s physical and mental well-being.
If the individual can carry out a normal life and balance a social life, family life, work life, and a gaming hobby, there’s probably not much to worry about. But if there’s an obvious collapse of a person’s life due to gaming, that could indicate unhealthy gaming habits and risk of addiction.
Getting Treatment for Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction treatment often includes psychotherapy and, if needed, medication to manage severe symptoms. If you suspect you or a loved one has the warning signs of video game addiction, now is the time to seek treatment.
Get started by talking to a healthcare professional or therapist about the treatment best fits your needs. If you’re unsure how to get started, try SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to learn what treatment options are offered in your area.
FAQ's About Video Game Addiction
What are 3 key symptoms of video game addiction?
The three most common symptoms of video game addiction include poor hygiene, struggling to quit gaming, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not gaming.
Not all addicts may exhibit these symptoms, however, so it’s important to be aware of all the warning signs commonly seen in gaming addiction.
How many hours is considered video game addiction?
Time is generally not a good indicator of video game addiction, as everyone is different. While eight hours a day may seem excessive, some people play games for a living and can manage to game for that long in a healthy, balanced way.
If someone can play for multiple hours a day and still have a healthy life balance with no symptoms of addiction, the amount of time doesn’t tell us much.
A better metric for addiction is to examine whether or not other areas of the person’s life are suffering from their video game habits.
What is the average age of someone with a video game addiction?
The average age of video game addicts is 24 years old. According to current research, most video game addicts tend to fall between 18 to 34 years old. However, there are many cases of individuals outside this age range who have video game addiction.
What are the signs of video game addiction in teenagers?
Common signs of video game addiction in teens include:
- Dropping grades and test scores
- Withdrawal from social groups or only interacting with friends through multiplayer gaming
- Worsening hygiene due to gaming
- Staying up very late to play video games (even on school nights)
- Hiding or lying about how much time they spend gaming
- Stealing credit cards to pay for games or microtransactions in games
- Withdrawing from sports or extracurricular activities to spend more time gaming
How can parents help prevent video game addiction in their kids?
Stay aware of how long your child spends gaming and if any events trigger gaming sessions.
When you talk to your child about their gaming habits, avoid shaming or nagging them. Instead, make yourself a resource your child can come to about their gaming problem.
If you believe your child has developed a video game addiction, encouraging them to attend therapy can help address unhealthy gaming habits before they worsen.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common therapy used for behavioral addictions and can help improve your child’s gaming habits.
Limiting screen time and encouraging alternative, real-life hobbies can also be great preventative measures to help your child avoid falling into gaming addiction.
Who is most at risk for developing a video game addiction?
The most common risk factors for developing video game addiction include:
- History of past substance abuse, internet addiction, or gambling addiction
- History of addiction in your family
- Low self-esteem
- Low self-control
- Adolescent males and men aged 18 to 34
- Certain co-occurring mental illnesses like anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, and impulse control disorders