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Video game addiction, is it real?

It most certainly is if you’re the person or family member coping with excessive use.

When use becomes chronic and excessive it causes problems for both the user and those around them. What was once an activity full of excitement, challenge and reward, often leads to reduced functioning and conflict when use gets out of control. Excessive video gaming often supersedes other important activities, hobbies, and relational pursuits in life. Thus parents, friends and loved ones are often the first to see warning signs in those who use excessively.

What is gaming disorder?

Research into the effects of video gaming have been ongoing for several decades. While there are both positive and negative aspects of video game play, it is clear that for some adults and teens, gaming is a significant problem. Thus, the World Health Organization made the decision to include gaming disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in 2018.

Studies indicate that video game play (VGP) changes the brain. VGP has been associated with delayed development in brain areas associated with development and verbal intelligence. Other studies suggest that video game play may cue the brain in similar ways as what happens when a person coping with pathological gambling or substance dependence.

When to seek help

Excessive game play may lead to a variety of eventual outcomes. Some people play excessively on occasion, but live healthy lives otherwise. They exercise, show up for work, go out with friends, and spend time engaging in offline activities with people they care about. Others find themselves caught in an insatiable feedback loop of game play and reward. To this end, the ability to stop on their own is nearly impossible without formal help.

Taking the first step

Thirty years ago, the rule of thumb for people with addictions was to let them crash hard in hopes that they would be more open to change once they failed. Nowadays, that’s clearly not the recommended solution. Of course, the best possible outcomes occur when a person is ready and willing to change. That said, positive change can take place even if a person does not recognize their use as problematic.

How to talk about the issue

Be honest and direct with someone who is on the fence about their video game play. Do not minimize, cover up, dismiss, ignore, or be in denial yourself. People who have grown dependent on video games often endure more suffering the longer it takes to get support. Those who care about an excessive user may feel unsure about whether use has reached problematic levels. Trust your gut. Educate yourself. Video game addiction can take a serious physical and emotional toll in all those surrounding the user, not just the video game player themselves.

Outpatient care

It’s always preferred to get help with the least emotional and financial disruption to your life. When choosing outpatient providers, it’s important to select those who understand addiction and know when to refer a client to inpatient or residential care. Since video game addiction treatment is so new, few clinicians know when to refer out for more intensive work. Instead, they spend months or years doing their best work only to discover the person is not getting better. Instead, gamers play in between most sessions, and make little to no progress. Oftentimes, they quit attending counseling sessions altogether. If this is happening for you,  residential care may be the next best option. Having a knowledgeable outpatient therapist who understands gaming disorder upon your return increases the likelihood of long term success. 

How do I select a residential treatment facility

Today there are many different resources online that offer referrals to programs or rehabs that say they treat video game addiction. Some are offered by people who played video games and quit, but don’t have clinical experience. Others are run by people who have clinical mental health background, but don’t have much experience in the way of video games or technology in general. 

Coping with threats of self-harm

All threats of harm should be taken seriously. A user may make threats to engage in self-harm when discussions involving limits or needing help are on the table. Do not take these lightly. Be direct and ask if they have a plan to harm themselves or others. If you suspect a person may intentional harm themselves, contact your local crisis line or your local police officer who may be able to conduct a safety check. By you taking action, a gamer may realize that idle threats are not the way to get you to leave them alone. Idle threats will often cease if the real intent is to keep you at a distance so they can keep video gaming.


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