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Do I Have A Video Game Addiction? Recognizing the Signs and Taking Action

video game addiction

In the last 50 years video games have grown in popularity and prevalence in our culture. Originally viewed as “just for children”, as young gamers have grown up so have the games. During all this public opinion has varied widely. Many kids grew up being told that the games they loved were “rotting their brains.”

In recent years, video games have become a popular form of entertainment for people of all ages. And evidence has emerged that video games can have some potent cognitive benefits. But for some individuals, there is a darker side to gaming. It can become an addiction. It can replace our desire to be challenged in the real world, and like the plot of a bad 80s horror flick, it can begin to replace our reality all together. 

In this blog we’ll explore the positive and negative aspects of gaming. We’ll talk about escapism, and how the fantasies we live out in games can be a little too seductive. And finally we’ll help you identify if you or a loved one may be crossing the line into addictive territory, and how to manage that behavior. Let’s jump in!

 

The Positive Effects of Gaming on a Developing Brain

Although video games often receive criticism, they can have several positive effects, especially on a developing brain. Besides the obvious positive with video games (they’re fun!) there are a host of other benefits we may see when playing. Engaging in video games can enhance various cognitive functions, such as:

     

      • Improved Hand-Eye Coordination: Many video games require precise movements and quick reactions, which can enhance a player’s hand-eye coordination.

      • Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills: Strategy games and puzzles encourage players to think critically and solve complex problems.

      • Increased Multitasking Ability: Fast-paced games often require players to keep track of multiple elements simultaneously, improving their multitasking skills.

      • Boosted Creativity: Open-world and sandbox games allow players to explore and create, fostering creativity and imagination.

    While these benefits are noteworthy, it’s crucial to balance gaming with other activities to ensure a well-rounded development.

     

    The Negative Side Effects of Gaming

    Critics of video games have been an outspoken bunch through the years, from parent groups worried about the violent content to psychologists concerned with self-isolating behaviors and excessive screen time (click here to learn about screen addiction). Despite the positive aspects, excessive gaming can lead to several negative side effects. If gaming starts to interfere with other important aspects of life, it may be time to take a closer look. The impact of excessive gaming often shows up in one, or several of these areas:

     

    Problems with Daily Responsibilities

    One of the first signs of video game addiction is neglecting daily responsibilities. This can manifest in various ways, such as:

       

        • Academic Decline: For students, excessive gaming can lead to poor performance in school due to skipped homework, lack of study time, or even missing classes.

        • Work Performance: Adults may find their work performance suffering as they prioritize gaming over job responsibilities, leading to missed deadlines or poor productivity.

        • Household Responsibilities: Chores and household tasks might be ignored, causing tension within the home environment.

       

      is my boyfriend addicted to video games

       

      Impact on Relationships

      Another significant concern is the impact of excessive gaming on relationships. If you find yourself frequently hearing, “My boyfriend is addicted to video games,” or “My son is addicted to video games,” it might indicate a deeper issue. Here are some ways gaming addiction can strain relationships:

         

          • Isolation: Spending excessive time gaming can lead to social isolation, as individuals withdraw from family and friends.

          • Communication Breakdown: Constant gaming can result in a lack of meaningful communication with loved ones, causing misunderstandings and emotional distance.

          • Neglect of Loved Ones: Partners, children, and friends might feel neglected as the gamer prioritizes virtual achievements over real-life connections.

         

        Psychological and Physical Health Issues

        Prolonged gaming sessions can also lead to various health issues, including:

           

            • Sleep Deprivation: Many gamers sacrifice sleep to continue playing, leading to fatigue, irritability, and impaired cognitive function.

            • Physical Strain: Extended periods of sitting and repetitive motions can cause physical discomfort, such as back pain, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

            • Increased Stress Levels: The excitement and engagement of video games can over-stimulate the nervous system, leading to higher levels of adrenaline and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones.

            • Weight Gain: Prolonged gaming sessions can lead to weight gain as a combination of lack of exercise and easy, unhealthy food choices are made.

           

           

          The Reward System: Why Are Games So Addictive?

          Understanding why video games can be so addictive involves looking at the brain’s reward system. Video games are designed to provide immediate rewards and a sense of achievement, which can be highly satisfying. Here’s how it works:

           

          Dopamine and the Pleasure Principle

          Remember how good you feel when you level up in a game? Now think about the feeling of chasing that next level. When you achieve something in a game, (or in your day to day life) your brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This release creates a feeling of happiness and satisfaction, encouraging you to repeat the behavior to experience that feeling again and again. Over the years game developers have become better and better at “hooking” players into their games with achievements and systems that skillfully manipulate your brain’s need for achievement.

          Structured levels, missions, challenges, leveling up, unlockable characters, gear, or skins—all these are designed to keep you engaged in the game. The structure creates a cycle of constant rewards that won’t end until you finish the game, or in some cases, ever.

           

          Immediate Gratification

          Achieving something of note in real life can take a long time. Months or years can be spent working towards a meaningful accomplishment. In a video game this feeling of accomplishment is never more than a few minutes away. This immediate gratification can replace our drive for real life acheivements, especially if we’ve had difficulty or experienced trauma in our real world quests.

           

          Progression and Mastery

          A feeling of Progression and Mastery reinforces our desire to keep playing. Again—in the real world, mastery of a skillset can take thousands of hours. However, video game mechanics are designed to be relatively easy to master (depending on the game!). As you begin to master a mechanic, new ones are introduced. This feeling of progression and mastery further reinforces the desire to play.

           

          Social Validation

          Finally, social validation plays an important role in some games. Whether it’s a leaderboard, online multiplayer, or the feeling of doing your part on a team, the social element of video games creates a sense of community that can be equally addictive for some people.

           

          video game addiction symptoms

           

          Recognizing the Signs of Video Game Addiction

          It’s important to recognize the signs of video game addiction to address it effectively. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

          Preoccupation with Gaming

          Constantly thinking about gaming, even when not playing, can be a sign of addiction. This preoccupation can distract from other important activities and responsibilities.

          Loss of Control

          Struggling to cut down on gaming time or feeling unable to stop playing, even when you know it’s causing problems, is a significant red flag.

          Withdrawal Symptoms

          Experiencing irritability, anxiety, or sadness when unable to play video games can indicate withdrawal symptoms, a common feature of addiction.

          Deception and Concealment

          Hiding gaming habits from loved ones or lying about the amount of time spent playing can signify that gaming has become problematic.

          Neglecting Interests and Activities

          Losing interest in hobbies, sports, and social activities that were once enjoyable can be a sign that gaming is taking over one’s life.

           

          The Long-Term Effects of Gaming on the Nervous System

          Many people ostensibly play video games in order to unwind or relax. But have you ever thrown your controller out of anger, or had to put it down with shaking hands because you were this close to beating that final boss? Video games can be exciting, and it’s important to realize that when you are in this excited state, your nervous system is on high-alert. 

          Your body is designed to enter this fight-or-flight state for short periods of time, dumping adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream to prepare your body for serious action. But a game might keep you in a fight-or-flight state for multiple hours at a time, leading to a host of mental and physical consequences.

          Overall stress levels may increase, as your body becomes flooded with these stress hormones. This may lead to higher levels of anxiety or crashes into depressive states where you can’t find motivation to do anything. You may experience mood swings, from mild to severe.

          Cortisol also releases glucose into the bloodstream, and reduces insulin production to keep blood sugar levels high for sustained activity. This makes your body crave more sugars, fats, and oils. While this diet is good for immediate survival, it’s likely to lead to health risks such as weight gain and heart disease.

          Finally, stress hormones actually suppress the immune system, meaning that playing excessive video games can actually get you sick.

           

          Mitigating Side Effects: Smart Gaming

          With all of these side effects you might think that you should stop playing games altogether. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. Video games are stimulating, can tell beautiful stories, can teach us things, and as we’ve seen, can improve our cognitive skills. And according to WebMD, only 1-9% of all gamers qualify as addicted. At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether you think you need help cutting back on gaming time. In proper moderation, video games can be an enjoyable, meaningful part of your life. So how can you moderate your video game playing?

           

          signs of video game addiction

           

          Taking Action: Video Game Addiction Treatment

          If you’re realizing that you have an unhealthy relationship with video games, there are some steps you can consider.

          Setting Limits and Boundaries

          Establishing clear limits on gaming time can help balance gaming with other activities. This might involve:

              • Scheduled Breaks: Encourage regular breaks during gaming sessions to prevent prolonged periods of play. You might set an alarm for 30 minutes and then stand up and walk around for a few minutes when the alarm goes off.

              • Screen-Free Zones and Times: Designate certain areas or times of the day as screen-free to encourage other activities. 

             

            Seeking Professional Help

            Professional counseling or therapy can provide valuable support for individuals struggling with video game addiction. Underlying issues may be contributing to your reliance on video games. A trained therapist can help identify underlying issues and develop strategies for managing gaming habits. The Truism Center has locations across Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Grandville, Troy, Commerce Township, Birmingham, and even a virtual office for online therapy

             

            Encouraging Alternative Activities

            Promote engagement in other activities that provide a sense of achievement and fulfillment, such as:

                • Physical Exercise: Encourage regular physical activity to promote overall well-being.

                • Hobbies and Interests: Help individuals rediscover hobbies and interests outside of gaming.

                • Social Interaction: Foster opportunities for social interaction and meaningful connections with others.

               

              Education and Awareness

              Educating oneself and loved ones about the potential risks and signs of video game addiction can empower individuals to make informed choices about their gaming habits.

               

              Conclusion: Do I Have a Gaming Addiction?

              Recognizing the signs of video game addiction is the first step towards addressing the issue. While gaming can offer cognitive benefits (and entertainment), it’s essential to maintain a healthy balance and ensure that it doesn’t interfere with daily responsibilities, relationships, and overall well-being. By setting limits, seeking professional help, and pursuing alternative activities, individuals can regain control and enjoy gaming as a balanced part of their lives.

              If you find yourself asking, “Do I have a gaming addiction?” or worrying about a loved one, know that support is available. With awareness and proactive steps, it’s possible to enjoy the positive aspects of gaming while minimizing the risks. Remember, the goal is not to eliminate gaming but to ensure it enhances rather than detracts from your life.

               

               

               

              Robb Kornoelje is a practicing CBT Counselor, Relationship Counselor, owner of the Truism Center, and creator of the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” This 30-day email course offers guidance to identify behaviors causing trouble, find ease with emotions, and enhance self-awareness. With a focus on stress-free communication, the challenge encourages a stronger connection with others, nurturing compassion, and fostering forgiveness. Join Robb on this journey to improve the fabric of your relationships—one day at a time.

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