Common Signs and Symptoms of Video Game Addiction
You often hear people talk about the signs and symptoms of addiction. Extreme weight loss, poor hygiene, and failing health are all common signs that someone you love is struggling with addiction. But what if that “someone” is you? And what if the addiction is to video games?
The number of video game addicts is increasing at an alarming rate, with nearly 10% of all gamers developing an unhealthy dependency. With over 2 billion gamers in the world, millions of people are at risk of developing an addiction. While men between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the greatest risk, video game addiction doesn’t discriminate by age or gender. The Internet and video games are appealing to people of all ages, genders, and walks of life. They offer stress relief, social interaction, and a sense of accomplishment.
But what happens when your weekend hobby turns into an unhealthy obsession? And how do you know if your gaming habit is out of control? Here we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common signs of gaming addiction, as well as withdrawal symptoms so that you can identify a dependency and get the help you need.
How Is Gaming Addiction Classified?
There’s still some debate over whether or not someone can actually be addicted to video games. But new research by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) suggests that Internet Gaming Addiction is a very real, serious problem that needs equally serious consideration.
Internet Gaming Addiction is outlined in the APA’S Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as DSM-5. The DSM-5 outlines symptoms, descriptions, and criteria for diagnosing mental health disorders. This manual is constantly changing and being updated as scientists and professionals conduct more research and uncover new treatment options.
As it currently stands, Internet Gaming Addiction is named in Section III of the DSM-5 as a condition that requires ongoing clinical research and experimentation. The DSM-5 focuses heavily on Internet use, which the APA describes as “an inescapable part of many people’s lives”. Research shows that the compulsive need to play online games negatively affects an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing. It also prevents these individuals from prospering both professionally and personally.
DSM-5 also acknowledges that some gamers experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when they no longer have access to their game of choice. Research shows that playing video and Internet games triggers pathways in the brain similar to alcohol and drugs. This neurological response in the brain creates feelings of pleasure and can, over time, lead to addictive behaviors.
Now, let’s take a closer look at common signs of video game addiction.
Let’s start with the most obvious and noticeable signs of addiction — the physical changes in your body. You might be wondering how playing video games possibly affect your physical health? You’d be surprised.
Here are a few ways that video game addiction can take a toll on your physical well-being.
Video game addicts often put their gaming habit above all else — including sleep. Video game addiction can cause insomnia in a variety of ways. For starters, some gamers forgo sleep altogether to continue playing. The desire to complete one more mission or achieve one more level is enough to keep gamers playing well into the night and morning. Lack of sleep can cause a long list of other issues including daytime fatigue, lack of focus, irritability, and anxiety.
For those gamers who are able to pry themselves away from their console or PC, actually falling and staying asleep can pose a problem. Studies show that the blue light from your computer screen, TV, or smartphone can block your body’s natural production of melatonin, interfering with healthy sleep patterns. It’s also difficult for many gaming addicts to quiet their minds and body for sleep. When you’re focused on your most recent kill or victory, your heart rate and blood pressure rise, pumping adrenaline through your veins and making it nearly impossible to sleep. The inability to unplug from video games at night or quiet your mind are common signs that your hobby is slowly becoming an obsession.
Digital Eye Strain
Computer Vision Syndrome, also known as digital eye strain, is a real concern for video game addicts. The American Optometric Association describes this condition as a group of eye- and vision-related problems that result from prolonged use of a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Since many gaming addicts spend well over 12 hours per day staring at a screen, Computer Vision Syndrome is a very real concern.
The most common signs of digital eye strain are blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain (more on this later). The longer you stare at a video screen, the less often you blink and the harder your eyes struggle to focus. This is especially true for gamers whose eyes are constantly moving and adjusting to keep up with and follow images and movements on the screen.
Neck and Back Pain
Speaking of neck and back pain, these are two more common side effects of too much gaming.
Neck pain is caused by several factors including poor posture and digital eye strain. You might be wondering how tired eyes can lead to headaches. Overworking your visual system puts stress on the trigeminal nerve. This is the largest, most complex nerve in your neck and is directly connected to the brain. It’s also responsible for all neck and head sensations. Too much pressure or strain on this nerve can trigger painful headaches.
An alarming 80% of the population has poor posture. Whether you’re sitting at a computer desk, slouching over a controller, or gaming on a mobile device, your posture may be compromised. It’s difficult to remember to keep your shoulders back, chest out, and chin up while gaming. After all, your focus is elsewhere! Over time, poor posture places unwanted pressure on the muscles and nerves in your neck. When you sit too long in the same position, your back can become stiff, leading to muscle strain and even herniated discs in severe cases. While getting up and stretching or replacing your gaming chair with an exercise ball can help correct some posture issues, reducing the number of hours your gaming is the ultimate, long-term solution.
Extreme Weight Gain or Weight Loss
A body in motion stays in motion. A body at rest stays at rest. Lack of physical activity can cause unhealthy weight gain and eating habits in many gamers. Without adequate exercise or movement, your body’s metabolism slows significantly. This makes it difficult for your body to burn fat and calories, leading to progressive weight gain. Add unhealthy snacking to the equation (which is a guilty pleasure of many video game addicts), and many players consume far more calories than they burn. Unhealthy eating habits are also common among gamers who reach for the closest thing (i.e. chips, cookies, or fast food).
It’s interesting to note that some video game addicts may also experience extreme weight loss. This is common among gamers who forgo eating to play or lose track of time, unintentionally skipping meals. If you can’t remember the last time you ate or the number on the scale is increasing along with the number of hours you spend gaming, you may have an addiction.
Compromised Personal Hygiene
Skipping meals and sleep aren’t the only signs that you’ve become addicted to video games. For most people, personal hygiene is second nature. Things like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and changing clothes are all routine behaviors that come naturally. Unfortunately, addicts often neglect these basic needs. If playing video games is taking precedence over personal grooming, it may be a sign that your priorities are out of order. Neglecting your personal hygiene for too long may also lead to other issues like poor dental health and bacterial infections.
Signs and symptoms of gaming addiction go far beyond the physical. You may notice significant changes in your behavior and mood when this fun pastime progresses into an unhealthy obsession. Before we can consider gaming addiction treatment, let’s take a closer look at behavior and personality changes commonly associated with gaming addiction.
Neglecting Important Responsibilities
Whether it’s work, school, parenting, or a combination of the three, everyone has daily responsibilities they must perform. In our complete guide to gaming addiction we explain that playing video games should be a way to unwind from the stress of these obligations, not take precedence over them.
Shirking on major responsibilities in both your professional and personal life is a major red flag that your gaming habit has gone too far. Several factors can cause this dip in performance. For starters, if you’re not sleeping well, you may be unable to focus and may be less productive than normal. You may also become forgetful, missing important assignments, meetings, or appointments. Work, school, and family should be your top priorities. Neglecting your job, schoolwork, or family for gaming are all signs that your habit is taking over and interfering with your daily life.
Strained Personal Relationships
As some gamers become more engrossed in video games, they start drifting apart from the important people in their lives. This includes family, friends, coworkers, and intimate partners. Your friends and family may even comment on how much time you spend gaming and that they miss spending time with you. Try not to take offense to these comments, but instead, step back and objectively evaluate what they mean. Are you declining invitations to get-togethers? Has it been weeks or even months since you’ve seen your closest friends? Is your partner withdrawing from you? Strained personal relationships are another sign of gaming addiction.
Interacting with others face-to-face and forming deep connections are important parts of leading a full, happy, and healthy life. Many gaming addicts end up spending more time chatting with other gamers online than they do interacting with the people that matter most in their lives. Becoming more invested in your online relationships than in real-life ones is another common sign of gaming addiction.
Depression and Isolation
As you start withdrawing from friends and family, you may feel isolated from the outside world. Breaking plans with friends, skipping family gatherings, and falling deeper into the fantasy world of gaming are all signs that you may be slowly losing touch with reality.
While some addicts use video games to ease feelings of depression and anxiety, the act of gaming can actually manifest these feelings. Isolation is a common sign of gaming addiction. Hours spent behind closed doors and without human-to-human contact can take their toll on your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Neglecting Other Activities and Hobbies
Playing video games used to just be something you did, along with other activities like hiking, biking, or playing golf. Now, it’s all you do! Does this describe you? Have your favorite hobbies and activities fallen to the wayside? If activities you once enjoyed no longer have the same appeal, it could be a sign that video games are slowly taking over your life.
True happiness lies in living a well-rounded, balanced life. If you were once an avid skier, surfer, or even musician, but find yourself less motivated to follow your passion because you’d rather be gaming, you may need to evaluate your choices. A large community on Reddit complain about this very problem so know that you’re not alone.
Mood Swings and Changes in Your Personality
Most people don’t realize it but playing too many video games can negatively affect both your personality and your overall mood and demeanor. Outsiders often notice these changes even before the addict does.
Do you find yourself getting irritated more easily than normal? Are you anxious if you can’t game when you want to? Many gaming addicts experience mood swings and personality changes when they can’t access their favorite video games. You may also find you have less patience when faced with an especially hard challenge.
In extreme cases, gaming addicts have been known to have violent outbursts while gaming. If you find yourself lashing out when you lose a game or fail a mission, it could be a sign that what once was a fun pastime is now something more serious and even damaging to your mental wellbeing.
Lack of Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries are an important part of life. This is true for romantic relationships and friendships as well as establishing a work-life balance. The concept of enjoying things in moderation also plays a part here. You need to set healthy boundaries for gameplay so that video games remain a part of your life and don’t become the focus of all your time and energy. If gaming is slowly creeping into all aspects of your life and getting in the way of major responsibilities, it may be a sign that you’re lacking healthy boundaries and need to readjust your lifestyle.
Most people don’t realize that there’s a psychological side to gaming addiction as well. Understanding all aspects of gaming addiction will give you a well-rounded approach to recovery.
Obsessive Thinking About Video Games
It’s one thing to be fully engrossed in a video game while you’re actively playing. It’s something entirely different to be consumed by the thought of gaming when you’re supposed to be engaged in something else.
Do you find your thoughts wandering during work or school? Are you unable to think of anything else? In addition to daydreaming about your next video game session, some addicts can’t let go of their most recent victory or accomplishment. Reliving these moments over in your mind, while unable to focus on anything else is another sign that your mind is consumed by gaming.
The Need to Game More to Achieve the Same Results
Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, over time, your brain may develop a tolerance to the dopamine hit you get from video games. That means that playing 30 to 40 minutes may have satisfied you before but now, you need to play for at least 60 minutes or more to achieve the same level of pleasure. This vicious cycle is similar to what drug and alcohol addicts experience. When a single dose no longer has the same effect, addicts have to consume more and more to achieve the same results. This is a dangerous game and puts addicts at a greater risk of overdosing. While you can’t overdose on playing video games, you may find yourself needing to play for hours on end just to feel the same level of pleasure you once did.
Withdrawal Symptoms Associated with Gaming Addiction
Withdrawal symptoms are a common side-effect of a physical dependency on things like drugs and alcohol. What many people don’t realize is that gaming addicts can also experience severe withdrawal symptoms. While some are physical, others are psychological.
Common physical withdrawal symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse include headaches, a racing heart, sweating, and difficulty breathing. These are also common among gaming addicts struggling to reduce their playing time or quit gaming altogether.
Other withdrawal symptoms include:
- Nervousness, anxiety, paranoia
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling depressed or sad
- Stomach upset (nausea)
- Insomnia or extreme fatigue
You may experience these symptoms in between gaming sessions or as you start your path to recovery. It’s important to remember that these symptoms are common and will subside with time. Avoid reverting back to playing in order to ease your discomfort. Relapsing is as dangerous for video game addicts as it is for those battling substance abuse.
Overcome Your Gaming Addiction Once and For All
Now that you have a better idea of the common signs and symptoms of gaming addiction, it’s time to step back and take an honest, objective look at your gaming habit. If you suspect you have an addiction it’s never too late to seek help.
The good news is, there are plenty of treatment options to help those struggling with gaming addiction. The Mindful Gamer combines proven techniques, expert advice, and online tools and resources into a self-help program, to help you overcome your addiction and reclaim your life.