What is computer game addiction?
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Computer game addiction generally refers to an excessive, unhealthy amount of playing computer games. Rather than engaging in the real world, an addicted user devotes the majority of his or her time to gaming. The addicted gamer often isolates him/herself from others, ignores more important responsibilities, and is often obsessed with obtaining higher status/rankings/achievements in his/her favorite computer game.
Is computer game addiction a diagnosable disorder?
According to the DSM-IV (the current manual for classifying emotional, psychological, and mental disorders), no. Although there have been calls from some mental health professionals (and parents) to recognize computer game addiction as a “real” disorder, it has not been granted official diagnostic status. As more research on the effects of excessive gaming is conducted, many believe that it is only a matter of time before computer game addiction is classified as a compulsive behavior similar to gambling addiction.
What are the symptoms of computer game addiction?
Because there is no official diagnosis of computer game addiction, there is obviously no universally agreed-upon list of symptoms. Psychologists and other mental health professionals initially adapted the diagnostic criteria for gambling addiction and used this as a rough assessment tool for computer game addiction. This classification approach is rarely used today and for better or for worse, it is essentially up to the individual researcher or clinician to define the symptoms of computer addiction. Still, there are some signs and behaviors that are almost always included in definitions of computer addiction, such as…
- Significant interference with school, work, or relationships
- Often avoiding other commitments in order to keep playing
- Frequently turning down social invitations in favor of gaming
- Using most or all of one’s free time for gaming
- Regularly playing late into the night which results in poor sleep habits
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Regular gaming “binges” of 8 hours or more nonstop
Who is most at risk for computer game addiction?
Although virtually anyone who plays computer games could become addicted, certain groups appear to be more likely to develop unhealthy levels of play. These groups include:
- Children and teens
- People with other psychological difficulties (e.g., depression, low self-esteem, anxiety)
- Individuals with long periods of unstructured time (for example, a teen who is not involved in other activities outside of school)
- Those with higher levels of neuroticism
- Children who are more impulsive and have weaker social skills
Why are computer games addictive?
First, note that some types of computer games are clearly more addictive than others. For example, most research suggests that MMOs (like World of Warcraft) and FPS games (like Call of Duty) are more addictive than racing games and platformers. For a detailed explanation of why this is, please see “Why Are Video Games Addictive?” In brief, though, the most addictive video games usually employ many well-established psychological principles to encourage longer and longer periods of play. For example, the most addictive computer games…
- are based on a leveling system that requires only minimal effort to “level up” in the early stages…which slowly evolves into very long gaming sessions to reach the next stage as the game shows signs of progress.
- are open-ended with no clearly defined end
- require cooperation with other human players to advance in the game…which creates a sense of obligation and dedication to one’s teammates…which translates into more and more time strengthening characters and improving skills
- are based on variable-ratio or variable-interval schedules of reinforcement that encourage long periods of gaming even in the absence of rewards
How common is computer game addiction in children?
Depending on the research methodology and the definition of computer addiction used, estimates range from 2 to 10% of all children who play video games. More accurate and consistent estimates should be possible if formal diagnostic criteria for computer game addiction are introduced.
Is computer game addiction different from video game addiction, online addiction, and internet addiction?
Yes – although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, which has resulted in a fair amount of confusion. In general…
Computer Game Addiction refers to excessively playing games on a PC. Most often these games are of the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) or the FPS (First Person Shooter) genre. Competing online with and against other players is a significant factor in what makes these particular genres more addictive than others.
Video game addiction refers to excessive play on computers, home consoles, or handheld systems.
The terms “internet addiction” and “online addiction” are occasionally used to describe computer game addiction, but more appropriately describe excessive web surfing, email checking, instant messaging, Facebook addiction, or downloading movies, images, or music.
Is computer game addiction similar to alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and gambling addiction?
Whereas alcohol and drug addictions involve both psychological and physiological addiction, computer game addiction is often viewed as an impulse control problem involving psychological addiction only. In this regard, computer game addiction has more in common with gambling addiction than alcohol or drug addiction.
What are the main consequences of computer game addiction?
Although somewhat similar to the symptoms of computer game addiction, the negative consequences of excessive gaming are often divided into five main categories:
Social Consequences – As a computer game addict spends more time gaming, he/she tends to spend less time interacting with others in person. As such, he/she may lack face-to-face human contact, experience isolation & loneliness, and the loss of friends or relationships.
Academic / Career Consequences – Children and teens who are addicted to computer games very often experience falling grades and decreased academic performance and dedication. Completing homework, studying for tests, and efforts during school become very low priorities. Adults who are addicted to computer games may experience a similar deterioration in work performance, job dedication, and career aspirations.
Financial Consequences – Adults and teens may spend large amounts of money on new games, expansion packs, micro-transactions, service fees, and computer upgrades. In extreme cases, jobs may be lost due to poor work performance, playing while at work, and frequent absences.
Family Consequences – Computer game addiction often leads to deterioration in family relationships. Tension and conflict between family members escalate as requests to cut back or stop are ignored. The addicted players may initially deny that a problem exists, try to hide how much he/she plays, and accuse the other of trying to “control” his / her life. Parents of addicted children may disagree on how to address the problem, which may lead to frequent arguments and conflicts.
Health Consequences – Computer game addicts may neglect personal hygiene, have poor sleep habits, give up healthy physical activities, and may make meal decisions based on quick and easy preparation (so that gaming is not interrupted) rather than dietary needs.
Emotional / Psychological Consequences – Those addicted to computer games may experience depressed mood, low self-esteem, social anxiety, low frustration tolerance, anger, and feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to control their gaming habits. Of note, it seems likely that difficulties in other areas can cause and be caused by computer game addiction.
How is computer game addiction treated?
Because computer game addiction is a new development in the world of mental health, treatments are not as well-established as those for depression, anxiety, anger, etc. Most interventions take a cognitive-behavioral approach which involves changing how the addict thinks about the addiction (for example, recognizing cognitive distortions designed to convince the gamer that it is not a problem), and simultaneously changing his/her behaviors (for example, setting strict limits for play, taking care of other responsibilities before gaming, using game blocking software or devices, etc.).
Treatment can take a variety of forms including:
Individual therapy with a psychologist who specializes in treating computer game addiction or who has experience with addictions in general.
Pros: Treatment is tailored to the individual player and is based on established psychological principles and interventions.
Cons: Computer game addiction specialists are quite rare and it may be difficult or impossible to find one locally. Treatment can be quite expensive if multiple sessions are required (which is usually true).
Family therapy – especially if the addicted player is a child or younger teen.
Pro: Computer game addiction almost always affects other family members, and the chance for recovery is increased if these members are involved in treatment and are working together toward mutually agreed-upon goals.
Cons: It may be even more difficult to find a computer game addiction specialist who is also experienced in offering family therapy. Additionally, some family members may see the problem only as the addict’s responsibility and may be unwilling to participate in therapy.
In-patient treatment facilities (very rare in North America but much more common in countries such as China and South Korea).
Pro: Intensive daily interventions offered by a team of specialists.
Cons: Very expensive (tens of thousands of dollars), few facilities in North America and Europe, and little research on the efficacy of the treatments.
- Wilderness therapy in which the addicted gamer enters an outdoor treatment program focused on survival skills, team-building, goal-setting, and developing self-confidence. The programs typically last at least thirty days and the participants have absolutely no access to video games (and limited access to other technologies).
Pros: Complete removal of the game for an extended period in a wilderness environment with an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development.
Cons: Very expensive (again) and a limited number of programs are available. There are few programs specifically for computer game addiction and participants generally come with a wide variety of behavioral problems. Wilderness therapy is generally only offered for children and teens.
There are some including myself that look away from facing the realities of the world. These can be personal problems or, just a way to eliminate the pain we may sometimes feel. They could be caused by a feeling of non-acceptance by our peers or the public. Depression and anxiety may be temporarily elevated through the distraction from some cruel realities. We can build our own virtual reality through an online computer game.
Wow, we are in control of the outcome. Unfortunately, when we leave that game we feel like we have been slapped in the face. Our virtual comfort zone has been put on hold. In some cases, this may cause panic, depression, and even anger. I personally used alcohol as a coping mechanism, but it did not work. Sometimes reality leaves a lot to be desired. Being bullied, feeling that you are the only piece that does not fit in that jigsaw puzzle in life.
Video Game Addiction Treatment Program Options:
As with gambling addiction, video game addiction is a clinical impulse control disorder. According to psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD, the criteria for video game addiction is the same as that for addiction to a substance. In both cases, the person requires more of the source as time goes on and becomes irritable and despondent when they cannot access it. In fact, video game addicts can even experience withdrawal symptoms.
Another clue that a person is addicted to video games, according to researchers at Kansas State University, is that they may play video games to alter their mood.
While the harm in addictions to substances is apparent in physical symptoms, it is often less clear with video game addiction. However, video game addiction can negatively affect life in the same way a substance addiction can. Those who play for hours each day become withdrawn and isolated, foregoing work, school, and other responsibilities to play. Younger addicts often miss out on critical education and important social development, while adults tend to experience deteriorating relationships and problems with their employers.
The physical effects of video game addiction include poor personal hygiene, hormonal disturbances from sleep deprivation, and what the American Physical Therapy Association refers to as video gamer’s thumb, a repetitive use injury characterized by tendonitis and swelling. Many addicted gamers gain weight as a result of their sedentary lifestyles and tendency to reach for high-calorie processed foods and beverages.
Some experts warn that excessive gaming can even be fatal. A tech addiction expert in Seattle said she has known of people who have died from heart attacks and blood clots, both results of the unhealthy lifestyle many extreme gamers live.
The warning signs of video game addiction include:
- Gaming to escape difficult life situations
- Playing for longer periods as time goes on
- Skipping showers and meals to play
- Poor performance at work or school
- Lying to others to hide gaming activities
- Exhibiting signs of irritation when forced to stop gaming
What Causes Video Game Addictions?
Researchers are not certain what causes video game addiction; however, some experts believe that elevated dopamine levels contribute heavily to the problem.
Is There a Cure for Video Game Addiction?
Treatment for video game addiction is similar to that for other addictions. Counseling and behavior modification are the primary means of treating addicted gamers. Together, individual and family counseling are powerful treatment tools. Some treatment facilities incorporate medication into their programs.
However, unlike drugs or alcohol, video games are tied to computers, which are a key part of life for most people. In that way, the addiction is similar to food addiction. As a result, some treatment centers explore controlled use rather than abstinence.
Dopamine works in the brain’s reward center. It is released during activities most people find pleasurable, including eating and consuming certain drugs.
Therapists view all addictions as functioning essentially the same way. In the case of non-substance addictions, such as those to sex, gambling, and gaming, the behavior takes the place of a substance. The action of playing generates a feeling of pleasure, which ensures the addict will repeat the action as often as possible.
In a report published by CBC News in April 2013, a gaming addiction expert said those with certain personality disorders or disabilities are at greater risk than others. She noted that people who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Asperger’s are particularly susceptible to gaming addiction.
Those who study video game addiction also believe that the problem has a psychological component. They contend that compulsive gamers retreat to a fantasy world to escape their real-life troubles and unpleasant emotions. According to a recent report, 41 percent of those who play online video games indicated they game to escape from reality.
Therapies for Video Game Addicts:
Research on treatment for video game addiction is ongoing, but few clinical trials have been conducted in relation to the problem. Experts agree that the same treatments used for sufferers of other addictions appear to work for video game addicts. As a result, they generally recommend counseling and psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, and medication, either individually or in combination with other treatment methods.
One-on-one counseling and family counseling are both effective in treating a gaming addict. Psychotherapists attempt to help the addict understand how gaming is related to their school or job, emotions and moods, and sense of life goals and rewards.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Treatment:
Many experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as the ideal treatment for video game addiction. The therapy allows the addict to shift their thoughts, replacing those that lead to compulsive gaming with healthier thinking patterns. As its name implies, cognitive behavioral therapy allows a person to modify their thoughts, feelings, and ultimately behavior for the better.
Therapists consider addiction a belief or way of thinking that leads to irrational, often unhealthy behaviors. They start treatment by identifying and focusing on the thoughts that start the chain of addiction and help the addict begin their transition from there.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques include setting goals and then learning to overcome the thinking that sparks compulsive gaming.
Outpatient Video Game Rehab and Treatment Programs:
Outpatient video game rehabilitation programs share many of the traits of inpatient programs, minus the overnight accommodations. Outpatient programs offer significantly more freedom for the patient, who, at the end of each session, is allowed to return home. Such a structure permits patients to maintain commitments to work, school, friends, and family. Another benefit of an outpatient program is that the patient can enjoy a support network without needing to reveal to coworkers or fellow students that they are undergoing treatment for addiction.
Alternative therapies for online game addictions:
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