Video Game Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021

Video game addiction is a nonmedical term used to describe compulsive video game use. People who become addicted to video game use may be at higher risk for certain mental health conditions or substance misuse, which can require treatment.

Video Game Addiction

Video games have been around in some form for decades. And while they can offer several benefits for some people, for others, video game use can become a compulsive habit.

Gaming, like other types of behaviors, may become addictive to people who have certain biological, social, or mental health-related vulnerabilities.

Addiction is largely identified by:

  • compulsive behavior
  • lack of control
  • significant distress or impairment
  • a progressive trajectory

Video game addiction, like other types of behavioral addictions, can have negative effects on a person’s life.

These can include physical health problems, reduced social interaction, and interference with work or school.

Read more about the signs and treatment of behavioral addictions

Is Video Game Addiction An Actual Health Condition?

Video game addiction is not recognized as a clinical disorder. However, the concept of video game addiction has been debated by mental health professionals for decades.

Video game use, like many other behaviors, can be addictive in that it can fulfill emotional or social needs that a person may otherwise be lacking.

In addition, some research shows that the use of video games may affect the brain’s reward system in a way that is similar to drugs and alcohol, thereby reinforcing compulsive behavior.

What Is Video Game Addiction?

Video game addiction is a nonmedical term used to describe a pattern of compulsive video game use.

People affected by this may condition feel unable to reduce or control their gaming, despite negative consequences to their life. This is similar to other types of behavioral addictions.

Types Of Video Game Addictions

Video games can be played in a variety of formats and on various devices. People who develop problematic gaming behaviors may become attached to one or multiple devices.

Types of video game use include:

  • online gaming (e.g. MMORPGs)
  • gaming consoles (e.g. Xbox)
  • smartphone games
  • handheld gaming devices

There are also various types of games: skill-based, puzzles, role-play, problem-solving, and educational games.

What can distinguish video game use from an addiction is the extent to which it interferes with a person’s daily life, emotional health, and relationships with others.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Video Game Addiction

Signs of a video game addiction are likened to those of other behavioral addictions, including internet addiction, cell phone addiction, and social media addiction.

Signs and symptoms of problematic gaming may include:

  • isolating from friends and family in order to game
  • spending the majority of time gaming, planning to game, or thinking about video games
  • neglecting personal hygiene in order to continue gaming
  • forgetting to eat or drink enough water due to excessive gaming
  • unsuccessfully trying to limit or reduce gaming activity
  • neglecting work or school to play video games
  • frequently using video games to escape from reality
  • becoming irritable, angry, or restless when unable to play video games
  • experiencing significant distress or impairment as a result of gaming

Effects Of Video Game Addiction

Developing a video game problem is different from standard video game use in that it can have distressing effects on a person’s health, relationships, and general way of life.

Compulsive video game use may cause:

  • physical health problems (e.g. back pain)
  • reduced ties to friends and family offline
  • difficulties with school or work
  • financial problems (e.g. with online gambling)
  • decline in personal hygiene and physical health
  • disruptions to sleep
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • poor psychological health

Video game addiction can interfere with various aspects of a person’s life, including their physical health and how they interact with others offline.

Risk Factors For Video Game Addiction

Research on problematic gaming activity has identified several factors that could potentially increase the risk for someone developing a video game addiction.

Risk factors include:

  • social anxiety
  • depression
  • playing online role-play games
  • lack of social support offline
  • poor impulse control
  • using video games to escape reality

Addiction is broadly believed to be connected in part to a person’s environment, genes, and hereditary factors such as a family history of addiction or mental illness.

While these factors haven’t been established as risk factors for problematic gaming, it’s possible they may similarly contribute to compulsive gaming behaviors.

Video Game Addiction And Substance Abuse

People who become addicted to their video game use may be at risk for developing harmful drinking behaviors of drug use.

One study, for instance, found a connection between excessive caffeine use and compulsive gaming. Stimulants like caffeine may be used to boost energy, stay awake longer, and increase focus.

Can Video Game Addiction Lead To Drug Addiction?

People who develop compulsive gaming habits may have certain vulnerabilities to substance misuse, such as underlying mental health conditions.

If a person has a personal or family history of substance abuse, they may be at increased risk of developing substance use problems.

Risk factors for drug and alcohol addiction include:

  • history of mental health disorders
  • family history of substance addiction
  • social anxiety
  • genetic predisposition
  • other personal factors

There’s little evidence to suggest, however, that a video game addiction can lead to substance misuse without other underlying risk factors.

Treatment Options For Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction, like other addictions, may be treated through behavioral therapy, which can be provided one-on-one or in a group setting.

Behavioral therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are one of the leading treatments for substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, and mental health conditions.

Other treatment options might include support groups, medication, and skills-based group therapy that can offer supportive coping strategies for managing stress or depression.

If someone has other co-occurring issues, such as an anxiety disorder or substance misuse, a more intensive treatment program may be recommended.

Get Help For Video Game Addiction Today

Compulsive behaviors like excessive gaming often co-occur with other mental health or substance-related conditions.

If someone you know is struggling with compulsive gaming and substance misuse, we can help you find a treatment program that meets your needs.

Call us today to learn more about video game addiction and to find treatment options for a video game addiction near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021
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