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This page was medically reviewed by Stephanie Chick (FDAP), Senior ATP (Addiction Treatment Programme) Therapist at Priory Hospital North London, in July 2020.

What is Gaming Addiction?

Gaming addiction is a behavioural addiction referring to a pattern of frequent and persistent gaming, despite the negative consequences that this causes, including relationship, financial or work based problems.

Initially, gaming addiction can be broken down into two distinct types of addiction, which include:

Single-player video game addiction - these types of games involve only one player, and tend to involve a clear path or series of missions to complete, and will feature a narrative to accompany your progress through the game.

Multiplayer video game addiction - online multiplayer games are video games that are played with other people based in different locations across the world, via an internet connection. These games are mostly likely to cause symptoms of addiction due to there being no official ending like there is with single-player games.

Gaming Addiction Symptoms

The two primary signs that set gaming addiction apart from avid gaming habits include:

  • Obsessional thoughts about gaming - a person is so preoccupied by the idea of gaming that they will crave their next gaming session and be focused so much on previous gaming activity
  • Uses gaming to alter low mood - a compulsion to play video games to escape from an uncomfortable situation, or to mask underlying symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety

Whether your gaming addiction is exclusive to single-player or multiplayer games, there are emotional and social symptoms of gaming addiction to look out for. These may include:

Emotional symptoms of gaming addiction

  • Feelings of restlessness and irritability resembling withdrawal symptoms, when you are unable to play
  • Thoughts are dominated by gaming even when you are not actively playing
  • Becoming isolated and detached from friends and family in order to free up time to play video games
  • Mood changes, often dictated by whether you are able to game or not

Social symptoms of gaming addiction

  • Impaired work performance
  • Impaired academic performance
  • Lying to family and friends about how long you play video games
  • Avoiding hobbies and events that you would previously have enjoyed

Depending on whether someone is struggling with single-player gaming addiction, or multiplayer video game addiction, they may experience slightly different symptoms.

Living with a Son Addicted to Online Gaming

Peter McCartney (not real name) shares his experience as the parent of an online gaming addict to raise awareness of the addiction and encourage parents to “trust their instincts if they have suspicions”.

Peter says ..."He would be constantly irritable and withdrawn, and became increasingly distracted from even basic matters of personal hygiene and care for his surroundings. Additionally, the absorbing fantasy world of gaming steadily drew an already quite solitary child away from normal sociability."

Read more about Peter's story and how his son is addicted to gaming here.

When to get Gaming Addiction Help

While it is entirely possible to enjoy playing video games in moderation, or even play a game that you particularly enjoy for an extended period after you have purchased it, the distinction between being an avid gamer and having a gaming addiction can be determined through several key distinctions:

  • Preoccupation with gaming where it occupies the majority of your thoughts
  • Video games are played to change your mood
  • You have developed a tolerance to gaming and feel the need to play more frequently
  • Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when you stop playing for longer than you would like

If you, or a loved one, is experiencing any of these symptoms, help for gaming addiction is available as part of our addiction treatment programmes.

How is Video Game Addiction Treated?

Treatment for gaming addiction at Priory is similar to the approach that is used for treating people with other addictions such as compulsive alcohol or drug use, with residential, day and outpatient addiction programmes offered.

As part of an addiction programme, different therapy types will be used to help overcome gaming addiction. These include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a talking therapy which is often used to treat many types of addiction, as it looks to proactively address the underlying reasons for why you might be stuck in a pattern of excessively playing video games.

Family therapy – family therapy for gaming addiction can be particularly useful for addressing any issues in the home which may be causing you to turn to video games as a way to avoid confrontation.

Self-help and group therapy - group therapy sessions can be particularly useful when attempting to overcome your gaming addiction. They allow you to accept that your addiction is not unique to yourself, and realise that others have gone through precisely the same process.

If your gaming addiction is particularly severe, it may be recommended that you become a part of our inpatient treatment and 12-Step rehabilitation programme. This is an environment where there is no or limited access to gaming technology, with additional focus on learning behaviours to cope with dual diagnosis of other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or stress which may be encouraging addictive gaming behaviour.

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What Causes Gaming Addiction?

Advancement in gaming technology in recent years has led to increasing realism and a heightened sense of immersion into video game worlds. These updates attract gamers as they can experience and explore new dimensions.

Because of these advances, research suggests two common causes for gaming addiction. These are:

  1. Brain chemical changes
  2. Emotional influences

Brain chemical changes

As with other compulsive behaviour that can lead to an addiction, the levels of the ‘happy’ chemical known as dopamine which is released when you play a video game, may be one factor.

Dopamine is released when you take part in any pleasurable activity, like when you eat, watch a film, or play sports. It is linked to the reward system in your brain and is also involved in regulating problem solving and memory, which all plays a part in how much you may feel an urge to play a video game increasingly frequently.

Researchers believe that abnormally high levels of the chemical could make some people more predisposed than others to developing an addiction, as your brain begins to associate gaming with a pleasurable dopamine release, making it difficult to stop a cycle of compulsive behaviour without professional therapy treatment and support.   

Emotional influences              

With a dual diagnosis of gaming and substance addiction, or gaming alongside mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression being relatively common, it is believed that your emotions might play a significant role in the development of gaming addiction.

If you are regularly experiencing negative emotions characterised by a mental health condition, or are simply going through a period of unhappiness, then turning to computer games in order to ‘escape’ these symptoms can occur.

The achievement systems that are offered in many games can help you feel a sense of increased self-esteem and wellbeing that you may find hard to achieve in other aspects of your life. However, these feelings may be short-lived as soon as you stop gaming, leading you to require more and more game time so that you can avoid negative thoughts and escape your problems.

Gaming Addiciton Support

It's important to know that nobody has to suffer with gaming addiction on there own and help is available at Priory. Enquire about support today and we can provide all the information you need to know about our treatment plans and how you can tackle gaming addiction.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding gaming addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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