Many millions of people throughout the world spend time playing video games. Many people spend a great deal of time gaming. This does not necessarily mean that they are addicted to gaming. However if a person is spending a great deal of time gaming and has some of the symptoms described in this leaflet then there is a problem that needs help.
It is very important to recognise and treat addiction to gaming at an early stage. Just like other addictions, gaming disorder (gaming addiction) can have severe effects on family, work/education and social life.
What is gaming addiction?
Gaming disorder is a pattern of gaming behaviour ('digital-gaming' or 'video-gaming') which:
- Causes an overwhelming urge to spend all the time gaming.
- Means that gaming is given priority over any other activity, work or school, or any other interest.
- Continues or even increases the amount of time spent gaming, even though it is causing harmful effects on family, work/education and social life.
Gaming disorder is now recognised by the World Health Organization as a mental health condition. For the condition to be diagnosed as gaming disorder, the behaviour pattern must be severe enough to cause significant negative effects on personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important life activities. The features of gaming disorder should have been continuing for at least 12 months.
How common is gaming addiction?
Many millions of people throughout the world regularly spend time gaming. But gaming addiction is much less common. It is estimated that gaming addiction affects between 1 and 9 out of every 100 gamers.
The risk of gaming addiction is greater for people who tend to be impulsive. The risk also increases with increasing time spent gaming.
The games most likely to lead to addiction seem to be the massive multi-player online role-playing games. These role-playing games involve an ongoing story that is never quite finished. The story evolves with every play, and this encourages players to keep playing to keep the story going. However, even less intense games can lead to gaming addiction.
What are the symptoms of gaming addiction?
Gaming addiction can cause various symptoms and the severity will vary from person to person. Some of the symptoms can also be caused by other kinds of stress, so it can't alway be assumed that it is gaming that's the cause of any problems. The symptoms of gaming addiction are as follows:
- Gaming behaviour:
- Preoccupation with games, constantly thinking about previous games and anticipating playing the next game. Gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life.
- Self-imposed isolation in order to guarantee uninterrupted play.
- The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt, anxiety or hopelessness.
- The need to spend increasing amounts of time gaming.
- Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away. These symptoms are often described as irritability, restlessness, anxiety, or depression.
- Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent gaming.
- People with increased gaming symptoms may have greater levels of depression and also an increased tendency to become aggressive.
- Effects on other activities:
- Loss of interest in real-life relationships, previous hobbies, and other entertainment as a result of gaming.
- Risk of losing, or actually losing, a job, educational or career opportunity, or a relationship due to gaming.
- Persistent tiredness due to lack of sleep.
- Continued excessive gaming despite being aware of the problems it's causing.
- Being unable to reduce playing and having failed attempts to quit gaming.
If someone spends many hours at a time gaming, this does not necessarily mean that they have gaming addiction. However, that amount of time along with the signs listed above indicates a problem. If there is any chance an addiction exists, early recognition and treatment are very important.
How can gaming addiction be treated?
There is currently a lack of very strong evidence on the best treatments for gaming addiction. The most widely used psychological help has been cognitive behavioural therapy. Other approaches, including family therapy and motivational interviewing, have also been used.
Treating gaming addiction is based on an assessment of each individual person and the severity of their gaming addiction. The aim of treatment is usually to help the person completely avoid gaming because even a small amount of gaming may steadily increase back to a problem in a person who is susceptible to gaming addiction.
Treatment is based on helping a person with gaming addiction to:
- Gradually reduce the amount of time spent gaming.
- Recognise their own addictive behaviour.
- Understand the causes or triggers of their gaming addiction and so develop strategies to overcome them.
- Understand the harm their gaming addiction is causing.
It is also very important to teach families how to help and support the person with gaming addiction.
What is the outlook (prognosis)?
One study found that about 1 in 4 people with gaming addiction continued to have significant symptoms over a two-year period. Another study found that the symptoms resolved in about 1 in 2 people with gaming disorder over a one-year period.
Further reading and references
Gaming disorder; World Health Organization, January 2018
Gentile DA et al; Internet Gaming Disorder in Children and Adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 2017, VOLUME 140/ISSUE Supplement 2.
Internet Gaming; American Psychiatric Association
Nakayama H, Mihara S, Higuchi S; Treatment and risk factors of Internet use disorders. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2017 Jul71(7):492-505. doi: 10.1111/pcn.12493. Epub 2017 Feb 10.
Schneider LA, King DL, Delfabbro PH; Family factors in adolescent problematic Internet gaming: A systematic review. J Behav Addict. 2017 Sep 16(3):321-333. doi: 10.1556/2006.6.2017.035. Epub 2017 Aug 1.