September 5th, 2023
Video games have been around for decades, capturing the imagination of players across generations. However, while video games are among the most popular entertainment worldwide, they have also been blamed for all manner of social ills. From causing teen violence to accusations of creating social recluses, video games have borne the brunt of numerous criticisms. Despite these instances of undue demonisation, it is important to recognise that there is one issue which is of real concern: gaming addiction. Officially recognised as a genuine disorder by the WHO in 2018, gaming addiction can destroy lives if professional help is not sought as soon as possible.
What is a gaming addiction?
Gaming addiction, in simple terms, is a behavioural addiction where a person has an uncontrollable compulsion to play video games. This compulsion is so strong that it interferes with their daily life, relationships and wellbeing, but they still cannot stop playing.
It is crucial to distinguish between gaming addiction and excessive gaming. The former is a clinical condition that requires professional intervention, while the latter might be a phase or hobby that does not necessarily cause significant harm. In fact, many people play video games many hours each day without developing an addiction or experiencing any negative effects.
Gaming addiction 101: Did you know…?
- There are an estimated 700,000 to one million people addicted to gaming in the UK.
- Gaming addiction affects both adults and children. However, children are more vulnerable, as up to 93% of UK children play video games.
- Research shows that males are more likely to develop a gaming addiction than females.
- Addicting games are not restricted to any one platform; they span across consoles, PCs and mobile devices.
- Treatment for gaming addiction is increasingly available, with facilities like Oasis Runcorn offering specialised services.
Why are video games addictive?
Video games are potentially addictive due to a number of different factors, including:
The brain’s reward system
On a physical level, the addictive nature of video games lies in their ability to stimulate the brain’s reward system, similar to the way addictive substances do. This stimulation releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, creating a pleasurable experience that the player seeks to repeat. Over time, gamers can develop a tolerance, requiring more extended gaming sessions to experience the same level of satisfaction, which can lead to dependency.
Intentionally addictive design
Another reason that video games are addictive is that they are designed to be. Video game designers employ various techniques to capture and maintain players’ attention, including:
- Compelling narratives that gamers are eager to follow
- Challenges that are difficult but achievable
- Reward systems that gratify gamers and encourage them to keep playing, such as new characters or equipment or gaining a higher rank
In multiplayer games, there’s also the social reward of recognition from other players, which can be highly motivating.
Financial investment in continuous play
Many modern video games employ a ‘freemium’ model, where the basic game is free, but additional features or benefits can be purchased. This model can hook players into the game without any initial cost and then entice them to spend money to enhance their gaming experience. This creates a financial investment that can make it harder to stop playing, ultimately leading to gaming addiction.
Escapism is another significant factor in video game addiction. Games offer immersive alternate realities where players can live out fantasies, assume different personas or escape from real-life difficulties. This aspect can be particularly addictive for individuals who feel dissatisfied, stressed or powerless in their actual lives or who have underlying mental health conditions or trauma and use video games to soothe their symptoms.
Infinite online play
Finally, the advent of online gaming has also contributed to the addictive potential of video games. Online games offer endless opportunities for new experiences and social interactions, with millions of players worldwide to compete with or against. Unlike traditional offline games, they operate in real-time and have no definitive ‘end’. This unlimited nature can lead to excessive gaming, as there’s always one more level to reach, one more match to win or one more item to collect.
Do I have a gaming addiction?
Gaming addiction can be difficult to identify as gaming is widespread, and excessive gaming does not automatically translate into addiction. Here are eight questions to consider which may point to gaming addiction symptoms:
- Do you spend much of your free time thinking about games?
- Have you tried to cut back on gaming without success?
- Do you become restless or irritable when attempting to reduce your gaming time?
- Do you use gaming as a way of escaping from problems or relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression?
- Have you lied to friends or family members about the amount of time you spend playing games?
- Have you jeopardised or lost significant relationships, jobs or educational opportunities due to gaming?
- Do you feel the need to play for longer each time?
If you answered yes to several of these questions, you may want to consider seeking professional gaming addiction help.
What are the negative effects of gaming addiction?
The impact of gaming addiction extends to physical, mental and social issues.
Physically, excessive gaming can lead to sedentary behaviour, resulting in obesity, strain injuries and poor overall health. Gaming addiction can also lead to sleep deprivation, with late-night gaming sessions disrupting regular sleep patterns.
Mentally, gaming addiction can contribute to anxiety and depression, exacerbate feelings of loneliness and even lead to gaming withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut down on playing time. Gaming withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, restlessness and mood swings, all of which can take a serious mental toll.
Socially, gaming addiction can severely impact relationships, lead to decreased involvement in social activities, causing sufferers to become increasingly isolated and cause conflicts with friends and family members about gaming habits. Gaming addiction can also have a major financial impact due to in-game purchases, missed work and unemployment.
How to stop a gaming addiction
Gaming addiction rehab is an evidence-based treatment that aims to break the cycle of gaming addiction and help you manage cravings, rebuild relationships and re-engage with other interests.
At Oasis Runcorn, we provide inpatient gaming rehab in the UK, where you will be shielded from your triggers, will have no access to video games and will be able to focus solely on recovery. Our game addiction rehab programmes incorporate various types of therapy and treatment, including:
Dialectical-behavioural therapy (DBT)
DBT is an approach that focuses on understanding and changing the thought processes that lead to addictive behaviour. For example, a gaming addict may believe, “I need to play games to feel happy or relaxed”. During DBT, your therapist will help you recognise that this belief is harmful and not necessarily true and work on reframing these thoughts. They will also equip you with coping strategies for cravings and techniques to handle setbacks and manage your gaming habits in a healthier way.
Family therapy is important because the family environment often plays a crucial role in the development and ongoing nature of gaming addiction. For example, family members might unknowingly enable a gaming addiction by taking over your responsibilities, allowing you more time to play. In family therapy, these patterns are brought to light, and healthier interactions are encouraged.
Group therapy provides a supportive and understanding environment for those struggling with gaming addiction. During group therapy, you will get the chance to share your experiences, fears and successes with others who are dealing with similar issues. For example, you might share how you successfully managed a gaming craving over the weekend, which can be empowering and provide practical tips for others in the group.
Does gaming addiction require detox?
Gaming addiction does not require a physical detox process like substance addiction because there are no physical substances to remove from the body. However, there is often a period of gaming withdrawal and adjustment that can be likened to a gaming detox. During this phase, you will reduce or stop your gaming, allowing your mind to adapt to lower levels of screen stimulation and less reliance on gaming for pleasure or stress relief. This can be accompanied by discomfort and gaming addiction withdrawal symptoms, highlighting the importance of professional guidance in this process.
How to prevent gaming addiction relapse
Maintaining recovery from gaming addiction requires an ongoing commitment. Engaging in aftercare following rehab is one way to reinforce the tools and techniques learned during treatment. At Oasis Runcorn, our aftercare programme provides all our clients with one year’s free weekly group therapy to ensure ongoing support, advice and accountability.
Other methods for preventing relapse include:
- Finding new hobbies to replace gaming
- Building a strong support network to lean on
- Practising good self-care habits
- Setting realistic life goals
- Celebrating recovery milestones
How to access gaming addiction help
If you recognise the symptoms of gaming addiction in yourself or a loved one, it’s crucial to seek help as soon as possible. Oasis Runcorn offers comprehensive gaming addiction rehab programmes with our team of experienced professionals providing a supportive environment to work through your addiction. Reach out to Oasis Runcorn today and take the first step towards reclaiming control over your life.