Video gaming use disorder, more commonly called video game addiction, is the inability to regulate video game play both on- and offline. A type of process addiction, video game disorder or internet gaming disorder is characterized by compulsive and problematic video game playing that impairs the gamer’s ability to function normally in certain areas of life. The one resounding trait is that the person is unable to control the amount of time spent on video game use.
While there is some debate over the validity of calling excessive online gaming an addiction, in 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized gaming disorder as a mental health condition in the 11th Edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), and gaming disorder was included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as an addictive diagnosis.
Who is Vulnerable to Gaming Disorders?
Gaming disorders can impact almost anyone but mostly this type of behavioral addiction is found in teens and young adults: specifically, individuals who feel lonely, isolated, or misunderstood and who resonate with the imaginary world of online games and online gaming.
It seems that in some individuals, online games may function as substitutions for real-life and real world interpersonal relationships. Video games can also provide individuals with the opportunity to reinvent themselves (in the form of an avatar or character) in a way that compensates for perceived personal deficiencies or perceived lack of social skills. It’s also common for individuals who are addicted to online gaming to suffer from mental illnesses or substance abuse problems. Gaming addiction may also lead to the development of co-occurring conditions.
How Does Video Game Addiction Affect The Body and Brain?
A gaming disorder impacts the brain in much the same way as other process addictions. The reward centers in the brain are stimulated through the activity. As with other addictions, dopamine is released, inducing feelings of pleasure and happiness. When the gaming continues and increases, the brain becomes accustomed to having increased levels of ‘feel good’ chemicals brought on by the behavior.
Once the brain and body become dependent on this increase of chemicals, the addicted individual then relies on the activity to experience those same pleasurable feelings again. As the brain continues to be flooded by these neurotransmitters, an individual more prone to addiction may begin to crave and participate in gaming at unhealthy levels.
When the individual continues the gaming behavior at the expense of work, school, family, loved ones and friends, researchers and mental health providers say that this indicates an addiction.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction
If you are concerned that you or a loved one have a video game use problem, consider the following signs of video game addiction set forth in the WHO’s ICD-11 and the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-V: