Gaming addiction, also referred to as gaming disorder, was officially recognised by the NHS as a mental health disorder in January of 2018. The recognition of this illness follows an ever-increasing number of children and teenagers becoming addicted to gaming all over the world.

Gaming has advanced tremendously over the past ten years. Technology today now enables a gamer to connect to other gamers live over the internet any place and at any time. Gaming has also become more exciting and enticing both visually and intellectually.

Gaming provides the perfect escape from reality, stress and boredom but it can also be very addictive. As an addiction negative consequences always come into play. Gaming disorder can be extremely detrimental not only to the individual affected but also very distressing for their family members and loved ones.

If you or a loved one are suffering from gaming addiction, please do not dismiss it as just a phase. It is important to seek professional help and treatment in order to successfully find recovery from compulsive gaming.

Who gaming addiction affects

Addiction can affect anyone, but gaming addiction tends to affect mostly children, teenagers and young adults due to its appeal and accessibility. Here at the Perry Clayman Project, we receive numerous calls from concerned family members and parents who are desperate to help their loved one break away from habitual gaming.

Children, teenagers and young adults are the most vulnerable age group where the disease of addiction is concerned. The human brain continues to develop and mature until the age of 25.

Whilst the brain is still developing it is particularly sensitive to external stimuli and substance inducing rewards. So much so, that with repeated exposure to a rewarding stimulus the brain can rewire its self to incorporate that stimulus as a necessary part of activating the brain’s reward system. Once this has happened the individual loses the power of choice and control. (1)

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Gaming addiction is no different to say addiction to gambling, sex or spending. Although the material consequences tend to be less severe, compulsive gaming can be every bit as painful and detrimental the sufferer’s mental health and general well being.

The teenage brain and gaming addiction

Research has proven that teenage brains function differently to adults. An adolescent brain functions from the emotional part of the brain rather than the rational part. In mature healthy adults, the rational part of the brain deals with every day to day tasks and events. With teenagers and those that suffer from mental health issues, the emotional part of the brain leads.(2)

Teenagers, children and young adults are more likely to act on emotions without first processing events; they are more prone to seeking immediate comfort and gratification without considering the possible consequences.

The reason this is information is relevant to gaming addiction is that addiction is very much about changing the way one feels rapidly, and is centred around the brain’s reward system. Those that suffer from addiction have poor impulse control and are prone to making choices based on irrational thoughts and feelings.

The younger generation has easy access to gaming as it is perceived as harmless fun. However, it is this age group that is most susceptible to developing a problem. An adolescent brain latches on to anything that positively and instantly changes negative feelings and emotions. This can then progress with repeated exposure and become an addiction. A vulnerable brain will eventually rewire itself to compulsively seek and engage.

Forms of gaming addiction

Gaming is available in many forms as an activity for all ages. Technology provides numerous ways in which to game. Popular forms of gaming that can lead to addiction include virtual reality (VR) video arcade games, mobile phone gaming, internet gaming, tablet and computer gaming. Most households these days also have a gaming console such as a Playstation, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Switch or Xbox. All forms of video gaming have the potential to lead to addiction.

When gaming becomes an addiction

(3) According to The World Health Organisation, gaming becomes a recognised disorder (addiction) when:

“The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months”

12 months is a very long period of time. As addiction specialists, our Counselling team recommends that any obsessive or addictive behaviour that affects other areas of an individuals life is professionally addressed as quickly as possible.

Spotting the signs of gaming addiction in an individual and not taking action can result in a worsening of their condition. Early intervention often has the most successful long term outcome.

Signs and symptoms of gaming addiction

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from gaming addiction there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Signs and symptoms of gaming addiction include:

  • Extended periods of time spent isolated gaming
  • Neglecting school work, college, work and sleep in order to play the game or games
  • Becoming very upset and distressed or aggressive and angry if there is a threat that the game will be interrupted or gaming equipment removed
  • Neglecting social life in favour of gaming
  • Showing signs of anxiety, frustration or depression
  • Difficulty interacting with family and friends
  • Appearing to be preoccupied most of the time
  • Showing little or no interest in anything else, such as hobbies or healthier activities
  • Neglecting personal appearance/hygiene
  • Refusing to leave a game in order to eat with family
  • Staying up late or through the night gaming despite having commitments the following day
  • Experiencing difficulty with concentration on other tasks. Gaming disorder can make the individual overtired so that they struggle with school or work.
  • Presenting as socially anxious and/or awkward
  • Suffering from low self-esteem and low self-confidence
  • Becoming distant and difficult to communicate with

Why gaming addiction is a problem

Gaming may seem harmless enough but when it is an addiction it is anything but. Millions of individuals around the world suffer from this now recognised mental health disorder. Those affected by gaming addiction, also known as gaming disorder and compulsive gaming, have a very real condition that requires specialist professional treatment and help.

Left untreated, those affected by gaming disorder can become anxious, depressed, withdrawn and even suicidal.

Teenagers who become addicted to gaming are particularly at risk of developing depression and social anxiety. The underlying issues that they are trying to avoid the need to be professionally addressed through counselling and therapy.

Someone who has a gaming addiction will neglect other areas of their life. This can make life very unmanageable for them. The more they neglect real life and opt for virtual life, the more unmanageable things become. This leads them to gaming even more.

Whilst gaming disorder does not carry the same physical consequences as an alcohol or drug misuse disorder, mentally the individual becomes very unwell. By escaping emotions and problems through gaming the individual never learns healthy coping mechanisms or how to build healthy relationships with others. For obvious reasons, this is very harmful to their wellbeing and emotional growth.

Gaming Addiction can affect adults

Whilst the majority of individuals who develop an addiction to playing video games are teenagers, this disorder also affects adults.

An adult suffering from gaming addiction will neglect their responsibilities and can suffer negative consequences to their finances, social life, career and personal relationships. They may well also neglect their family time in favour of gaming.

Adults who are addicted to gaming often suffer from dual diagnosis. They may well have an addiction or substance misuse problem or suffer from a mental health illness.

As gaming is seemingly an innocent past time an addicted adult is likely to deny they have a problem for longer than they would say and alcohol or drug addiction. The fact is that any addiction is dangerous and carries life-threatening risks to the sufferer.

Overcoming gaming addiction

If you or a loved one have a problem with excessive gaming, complete abstinence is suggested as a means of beginning the recovery process.

Maintaining complete abstinence from gaming where an addiction is present will prove very difficult and uncomfortable at first. If gaming continues to be a problem and you or your loved one are unable to abstain or control your urges to game, then it is recommended that professional help and treatment is sought.

It is important to understand that as a mental health disorder, compulsive gaming requires specialist mental health treatment. A disorder such as this is beyond the sufferer’s mental control and so they should not feel weak or ashamed at having to seek help. Treatment for gaming addiction is usually in the form of therapy, counselling and/or medication to treat any co-occurring illnesses.

With a child or young teenager, abstinence and therapy can often be successfully enforced by a parent. But with someone who is no longer classed as a minor, free will and choice become a danger. An addicts brain will always choose addiction. For older teens and adults there will also need to be a great desire to break their gaming addiction in order to recover.

Treatment for gaming addiction

PCP’s residential addiction clinic’s facilitate expert addiction treatment for process addictions and dual diagnosis patients. We are able to offer a bespoke treatment plan for any individual suffering from a substance misuse disorder, process addiction and mental health illness. This also includes gaming addiction/disorder.

We treat patients suffering from dual diagnosis illnesses professionally and on an individual basis. Addiction is a very serious condition that can become life-threatening.

When treating dual diagnosis illnesses it is imperative that all illnesses presenting are treated comprehensively, professionally and simultaneously. Neglecting to treat any illness can result in a relapse of the other(s).

The evidence-based treatments we use to treat gaming addiction include cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy, 12 Step therapy, individual counselling and holistic therapies. We also use medication on the recommendation of our consultant psychiatrists and doctors.

Rehab for gaming addiction

PCP rehab is able to provide affordable private rehab to anyone seeking treatment for a substance misuse disorder and gaming addiction. The benefits of attending one of our rehabs for gaming addiction include:

  • 24/7 care and treatment delivered by medical and counselling professionals
  • A safe inpatient environment which supports detox and intensive rehabilitation
  • A bespoke care plan consisting of evidence-based therapies and treatments
  • Distractions are minimised so patients can concentrate solely on their recovery
  • Professional aftercare provided for life on completion of treatment

For more information on how we can help you as an individual, please call and speak to a member of our counselling and admissions team.

Sources and references:

(1)Health Encyclopedia

(2)University of Rochester Medical Centre

(3)The World Health Organisation – WHO