Understanding video game addiction is an uncertain science, but the results can be devastating when compulsive gamers use their habits to escape or feel better about their lives.
While most people associate addiction with substances like drugs or alcohol, doctors and psychologists have recognized that compulsive video gaming is an addictive behavior too. Excessive game playing is no joke and it is a true addiction in the form of a clinical impulse control disorder that is very similar to compulsive gambling. Compulsive gaming fits the definition of an addiction when it gets to the point that a person craves more and more gaming over time and when they cannot fill that need they become irritable and miserable. Excessive game playing is rapidly becoming more widespread around the world today and it is not uncommon for psychiatrists to observe severe withdrawal symptoms in game addicts who become angry, violent, or depressed when they cannot play.
Unlike with substance abuse, understanding the biological roots of video game addiction is an uncertain science. Some research has suggested that gambling elevates the dopamine levels in the brain and although many doctors feel excessive gaming is similar, there's more to gaming addiction than just brain chemistry alone as there is also a psychological component when gamers use their habit to escape or feel better about their lives. Much like substance addicts, gamers also use something outside of themselves in the form of the fantasy worlds in the games to make them feel better. The fantasy world that beckons potential gaming addicts is especially strong in the genre of online role-playing games today, where players take the roles of fictional characters and then interact with other gamers playing out their own roles in virtual worlds. Like Clark Kent turning into Superman, role-playing games allow people to take on new and better identities, even if they are just fantasy-based.
Although the damage from gaming addiction may not be as dramatic and visible as in drug addiction, video game addiction can and does ruin lives when the addicts become isolated, drop out of their social scene and exclude all other recreation and hobbies for the sake of gaming. The harm is especially damaging to young kids who play games all day and have no time left over for socializing, homework, or sports. Kids who play games every waking minute of their lives can end up in a state of retarded social development that only gets worse as they age. By the time a 12-year-old gaming addict reaches his 21st birthday he might still have the emotional intelligence of a 12-year-old because he never reached out socially and never developed a normal and meaningful relationship with the opposite sex.
This is not to say that everyone who spends a lot of time gaming is, or will become a game addict, but the risks are definitely real and many people find out they cannot control their gaming activity until it is too late. If you or someone you know fits the early warning signs of gaming addiction listed below, it may be time to step away from the computer screen and get some help.
The warning signs of video game addiction include:
• Playing for ever-increasing amounts of time
• Thinking about gaming during all other activities
• Uses gaming to escape from problems in real life like anxiety or depression
• Begins lying about their habits to conceal the actual time spent gaming
• Feels depressed and irritable when attempting to reduce the time spent on gaming