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Everything You Need To Know About Gaming Addiction

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In recent years due to the rapid development of the gaming industry video game addiction has been on the rise. This, accompanied by many being stuck inside and isolated as a result of the pandemic more people than ever are at risk of developing it. Major health organizations such as the World Health Organization has recognized it as an official mental health disorder. If you think that you or anyone you know is at risk of developing video game addiction then please read on.

What Is Video Game Addiction?

Video game addiction is a behavioral addiction. This means that the individual is not addicted to any physical substance but rather the way they feel after completing a certain task or activity. Behavioral addictions are classified as behaviors that we carry out excessively despite the negative effects it is having on our physical or mental wellbeing. In the instance of gaming addiction, we are talking about playing video games to the point where areas of our life start to take a decline. We’ll go more in-depth on this later. 

Video game addiction can affect almost anyone. The most affected demographic according to The Mindful Gamer, a video game treatment and therapy app tend to be males between the ages of 18-24. Some studies suggest that men are biologically predisposed to being more susceptible to addictive video game features and reward-seeking behavior.

Causes Of Video Game Addiction

Most behavioral addictions are caused by an amalgamation of biological and environmental factors, gaming addiction is no exception. Here are some of the main causes of video game addiction to be aware of. 

Dopamine desensitization – Dopamine is a neurochemical produced by our brains responsible for mood regulation, sleep patterns, concentration and self-control. With this in mind, it’s clear to see that disrupting its function can lead to many negative consequences. When we play video games our brain releases dopamine in large quantities and we feel great. We get a sense of accomplishment that can be replicated over and over again whenever we want. However, after a long time, the receptors in our brain begin to become less sensitive to the high levels of dopamine, meaning we have to play more video games to release more dopamine and get the same level of satisfaction we used to.

Escapism – Many gamers play to get away from stresses and negative emotions present in the real world. Video games have been proven to suppress negative emotions such as pain, fear and anxiety. They calm down the center of your brain called the amygdala responsible for all of these emotions. As a short term solution for a bad day, this might be okay, but excessive use of video games to run from our deeper-rooted problems can exacerbate a video game addiction. 

When people run from their negative emotions they can be very overwhelming when they have to engage with them, hence individuals often turn to the behavior that liberates them most from this, hence they play more video games. A large portion of treatment of video game addiction revolves around finding healthier ways to deal with negative emotions and cravings. This, we will discuss later on.

Instant Gratification – As many of you might understand, playing video games makes us feel good for succeeding. Every time you beat that final boss or receive new items for levelling up the game is conditioning us to invest time into the game for a reward. Although not done with malicious intentions rewarding the player to keep them on board does have detrimental effects on our mental wellbeing. 

Human beings are wired to feel good when we overcome adversity and challenges, it is what allowed us to develop so far as a species and is also the reason why we revere and praise people who have great achievements or completed difficult tasks in society. 

Video games do an excellent job of tapping into our need for reward by creating challenges that walk the fine line of being difficult to accomplish but just easy enough to keep the user playing. The rush we get from doing well in gaming skews our perception of success. It confuses our motivation for long term goals and aspirations with quick fixes we can get from video games. This explains why a common symptom of those addicted to video games is trouble with concentration and motivation towards life goals outside of gaming.

Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For 

Now that we know some of the main causes of video games to be aware of, we should take a look at some of the red flags in our behavior that might indicate video game addiction.

Loss of Interest In Other Hobbies – Playing video games is a unique activity that provides numerous forms of stimulation. It is a social activity that allows us to connect with people online, it gives a sense of measurable growth and achievement and finally, it can be used as a way to relax and unwind from a stressful day. This is one of the main reasons other hobbies don’t satisfy us as much as gaming. 

Although other activities may be more productive and beneficial the high stimulation and rewards from gaming take precedence. The aforementioned desensitization to dopamine has a part to play here as our brains make a link that the only way to achieve this high level of dopamine release is to play more video games. Hence everything else seems mundane to the addicted brain.

Obsessive Thinking About Video Games  – If you ever find yourself struggling to concentrate at school or in the workplace due to fantasizing about your last gaming session then we may be dealing with a video game addiction. It is common for gaming addicts to anticipate and look forward to the next time they can play, taking away from their productivity and focus at work. This same behavior has been observed in other models of addiction explaining that we can be so conditioned to enjoy gaming that the thought of it alone is enough to stimulate a similar sense of excitation in the brain that playing would. 

The WHO explains that diagnosis of video game addiction is dependent on a pattern of behaviors leading to impairment across many different areas of life such as personal, family, social relationships, education and occupation. Hence symptoms such as obsessive thinking about video games fall under this category.

Lying to conceal gaming habits – Addiction comes with a great deal of guilt and shame so it is not uncommon for individuals to want to hide their addiction. Gaming addicts can be embarrassed about their inability to control their compulsion to play video games causing them to lie to loved ones or those willing to help. 

The first step in overcoming this is to acknowledge that video game addiction is a very real addiction that affects many people around the world. Also, recovery from addiction can be a lonely journey so telling those who you confide in is a great way to build a support system. Research has shown that those recovering from addiction with support groups show a significant decrease in rate of relapse. It also explains why group therapy is such a popular form of treatment for many different addictions.

Social Isolation and Damage to Relationships – Often when someone is addicted to video games they spend the vast majority of their time connected with their online friends. Most gamers congregate over communication apps such as discord to interact, play games and build a community. The anonymity and freedom of it all can be appealing to those who are particularly shy or suffer from social anxiety. 

For those addicted this often leads to neglecting important real-life friends which can be especially problematic in children and adolescents. Neglecting real-life socialization can lead to poor communication skills which are essential for forming deeper connections with others. Those who allow their online friends to become their only friends can struggle with this, ultimately leading to a sense of loneliness, exacerbating their need for interaction through video games.

Treatments of Video Game Addiction 

As daunting as video game addiction might seem there are numerous treatment options available out there. Here we would like to share with you some of the most effective methods of therapy.

Detoxification – This is the process of cutting our video games and all gaming related content for a 90 day period. The brain after being exposed to these high levels of dopamine for so long needs time to make a recovery. Our bodies are amazing at this and so in time, you will make a full recovery. However, it is important not to stimulate our brains with video games, twitch streams and other gaming content as this will also act as a trigger for wanting to play them again. 

This will be a difficult journey but one very worthwhile. As we mentioned before to help this process we recommend building a support network of people around you, you trust. Friends, family, colleagues or classmates. Anyone that you can talk to when you’re struggling and who can hold you accountable for your actions. 

The vast majority of video game addicts cannot remember what life was like without video games so this also allows the opportunity to develop a new perspective on life and find new passions we otherwise would have been blind to.

One method to make detoxing easier is to increase the barrier for entry to play video games. By hiding our console, locking, deleting games and applications we make it more difficult to play on a whim. The concept of undoing these things before playing should hopefully give us some time to rationalize and remember our goal of overcoming gaming addiction. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is one of the main forms of treatment for video game addiction and essentially focuses on retraining our thoughts and how we respond to them. CBT practices will help take power away from our cravings and urges to play video games helping us to operate however we want during the day unphased by what used to be addictive thoughts. 

One effective method we recommend is making a trigger journal. This is a diary where we will write down every time we feel like playing video games. In this entry we should include: when we wanted to play, what made us want to play ie an advert or message from a friend. And finally how it made us feel, upset or excited etc. By putting these thoughts down on paper we begin to detach ourselves from them. When we see what was once a powerful craving as simply words on a page we can begin to rationalize and make healthier decisions. 

Mindfulness – Mindfulness is incorporated into all modern courses of CBT so it is essential to have some mindfulness practices that work for you. The goal of mindfulness is to become unconditionally aware of your body and the sensations you are experiencing without judgement. This might sound difficult but you’ll realize it’s easier than you think once you get started. 

Mindfulness is practiced through meditations that can be either guided or done by yourself. Many find the Mindful breathing exercise to be very useful. This technique helps us focus on our breath and the sensation of breathing in order to ground us and bring us into the present moment. This will help us to allow negative emotions and cravings to pass without judgement. 

Mindful Breathing Meditation:

  • Find a quiet place, free from any distractions. Sit comfortably in the upright position. We recommend that you are in the seated position and not lying down as you will not be able to do this everywhere. However, if you have injuries preventing you from doing this, then you may lie down for this exercise. Sit comfortably with your feet firmly on the ground. Keeping your spine erect.
  • Focus on a point in the room or lightly close your eyes to remove any distractions. Feel free to try both, see how they are different and use the one you prefer.
  • Turn your attention to your breath. Breathe slowly and deeply. Inhale and exhale. Watching your breath, noticing it, feeling it but not so much thinking about it. Simply observing it. Notice the air moving into your nostrils. Following it all the way in, and all the way out. Notice how it’s slightly colder as it comes in and warmer as it moves out. Notice the slow rise and fall of your chest and stomach as you breathe. Notice the subtle rise and fall of your shoulders. Simply notice it. Focus on one of these points, the air moving into your nostrils, the rise and fall of your stomach, your chest or your shoulders.
  • You will quickly find that your mind starts to wonder; this is completely normal and inevitable. When you notice your mind has wandered, simply, gently, and non-judgmentally return to observing your breath.

Video game addiction can sometimes mask many underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and ADHD. Always seek the help of a healthcare professional if you have reason to believe you might be suffering from any of these disorders. If you or anyone you know are suffering from video game addiction then get them the help they deserve.