video game addiction

Video Game Addiction Treatment: What to Know

October 25, 2021

People of all ages play video games. Today’s technology has made access to video games of all types and styles easier. When video games first gained popularity, the gaming console was the primary gaming method of choice. While desktop computers could run some games, many needed to be booted from floppy drives via command prompts. The process was slow and confusing without a significant backing of computer knowledge. When console gaming gained popularity, games like Super Mario Brothers and Tetris made gaming exciting but seemingly safe for most teens and older children.


In recent years, video games have garnered significant attention. Unfortunately, not all of this attention is positive. Many games have developed into large online communities of people who gather together to play the same game in the same online universe. Examples such as World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Halo, Overwatch, Roblox, and Call of Duty (among thousands of others) allow people to come together to play regardless of their location in the world. While there may be benefits to this, many of these games have been accused of feeding video game addictions among adolescents, teens, and adults alike. Although many question the existence of video game addictions, others are quick to accuse video games of being responsible for many of the difficulties faced by the next generation of adults.


Understanding Video Game Addiction

Research shows as many as 60% of Americans (of all ages) play video games. Research specifically into the gaming habits of adolescence and teens between the ages of twelve and seventeen indicate that that number is closer to 95%. Many adolescents and teens who play video games do so for social interaction. The online gaming community creates a safe, supported space many teens feel they can be themselves despite the potential dangers of video game addiction. If one looks, it is possible to find positive aspects of video gameplay. As noted, for some, role-playing-based video games allow for social interaction that is not possible outside of the digital world. Blizzard Entertainment, a popular producer of online multiplayer role-playing games out of California, produced a documentary in 2014 entitled “Looking for Group.” A quick YouTube search will pull up the documentary. Interestingly, it provided insight into how video games have opened up a world that many adolescents and teens once felt was closed to them. The people interviewed in the documentary point out that video games allow them to communicate, interact, and feel free to be themselves in an environment where they are not judged for appearance, religious preference, sexual preference, economic status, or a host of other concerns that today’s teens face. 


Despite the potential positives associated with video gameplay, there are, of course, negatives as well. It is estimated that 80% of teens who engage in regular gameplay are addicted to video games. Problematic video gameplay or video game addiction is the term used to describe a circumstance where gaming leads to a considerable functional impairment in day-to-day life. It is further explained as “an excessive and compulsive use of computer and/or video games that results in social and or emotional problems; Despite these problems, the gamer is unable to control their excess abuse.”


Symptoms of Video Game Addiction

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the 5th edition, provides a list of diagnostic criteria for video game addiction. Although many medical and mental health professionals still question if video game addiction is “real,” this list of criteria can help parents or friends understand if a loved one may be overly reliant on video games, whether online or offline. Understanding what the symptoms of video game addiction look like can help parents encourage their teens to seek treatment to overcome their dependency on gaming at a teen-focused treatment center like Hillcrest in Los Angeles, CA.


First, it is important to note that one or more of the symptoms must be present for one year or longer to meet the diagnostic criteria for “addiction.” The DSM lists nine specific criteria that could pertain to video game addiction. For your teen to meet the criteria for diagnosis, they must present with five or more symptoms. It is also important to note that not everyone who plays video games frequently has a problem with gaming. Many mental health professionals agree that the percentage of players who meet the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders is lower than many might believe. It is estimated to be around 10% of all gamers, regardless of age. It is also more common in boys or men than in girls or women.


The symptoms of video game addiction or Internet gaming addiction mimic those of many other behavioral addictions. For example, if your teen thinks about gaming consistently, is irritable or anxious when they cannot play, requires more and more time immersed in the video game environment to feel good, or cannot reduce their playtime even if they try, it may be a cause for concern. Other potential symptoms include wanting to play instead of participating in other hobbies they once enjoyed, new or worsening difficulties at school, playing regardless of the challenges related to video games, lying to loved ones about how much time they spend playing, or using gaming to reduce stress for anxiety associated with bad moods or negative emotions.


Questions to Consider

Addiction is a disease the impacts the structure and function of the brain. While addictions to substances such as drugs or alcohol typically have a more profound effect on how the brain and body functions, behavioral addictions can be equally as detrimental to your teen’s mental and physical health. Unfortunately, symptoms of behavioral addictions may be more difficult to notice than those related to physical addictions. This is because addiction looks different from person to person. What may be considered normal behavior for your teen may not be so for someone else’s.


Consequently, consider asking the following questions regarding your teen’s behavior if you are concerned about addictions to video games. Does their video gaming get in the way of important or essential responsibilities such as school or extracurricular activities? Is video gaming influencing or having a negative impact on their personal or family relationships? Is gaming affecting attendance or performance at school? Is your teen using video games to avoid or reduce the severity of symptoms related to an underlying mental or medical health condition?


Preventing a Potential Problem

If you are a parent who is worried about your adolescent or teen’s potential dependency on video games, consider whether the time they spend playing video games is harming academics, peer relationships, or their relationships with family and loved ones. If your teen plays video games to communicate with friends maintains an active social lifestyle, and maintains positive academic standing, it may not be necessary to worry about video game addiction. However, if the reverse is true, it may be time to consider reaching out to the caring and compassionate team at Hillcrest for assistance with helping your teen overcome a dependency on video games.


It is also possible to proactively prevent the development of problematic gameplay. You can do things as a parent to help limit or reduce the amount of time your teen spends immersed in gaming. This may help ward off dependent or addictive behaviors in the long term. Begin by setting time limits for video gameplay and be sure to adhere to them. Also, keep technology capable of logging on to video games or with preloaded video games available out of their bedrooms in the evenings. This can ensure that they will not be tempted to play instead of going to sleep at bedtime. Also, include activities in your day-to-day family schedule that are not video game related. Examples may consist of exercise, hiking, walking the family dog, etc. Including these activities will not only reduce video game screen time but also promote health and overall wellness.


Treating Video Game Addiction

As previously noted, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM lists diagnostic criteria for Internet Gaming Addiction. However, an official diagnosis for “video game addiction” has yet to be regarded as a formal diagnosis in the manual. Medical and mental health professionals turn to the DSM as a primary diagnostic guide for mental health treatment. Unfortunately, because video game addiction is not a listed diagnosis, there is a limited body of research providing support and guidance for specific treatment models. But this does not mean a teen who struggles with video game addiction cannot seek help to overcome their symptoms.


Because video game addiction presents with similar symptoms to other addictive behaviors, such as gambling addictions, similar treatments have shown to be successful. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and 12 step recovery programs are commonly used to help teens understand the root causes behind addictive behaviors. Once this understanding is developed, it is possible to learn healthier and safer ways to manage behaviors and triggers that often lead to harmful behaviors. The goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is to help your teen examine their behavior to better understand why they happen. As treatment progresses, your teen will be encouraged to learn new ways to play video games but in a healthier, less invasive way. During therapy, your teen will work with your therapist to learn valuable coping mechanisms such as play limitations or eliminating gaming entirely. Together with their therapist, your teen will work to set healthy and attainable goals and practice ways to reach those goals while still (potentially) using video games as an outlet for communication and pleasure in a more limited way.


If you’re a parent who’s concerned about your teen’s addiction to video gaming, contact us at Hillcrest today. Without treatment, continued excessive video gameplay may lead to a range of physical and mental health impacts that can have a lasting effect on your teen’s future. The team here at Hillcrest is ready to help your family learn more about how our programs can help your teen overcome problematic video game addiction in a healthy and supported environment.

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