Video Game Addiction



Your beautiful, full-of-life, social 15 year-old son is changing into someone you hardly recognize anymore.  His school report card just arrived today with 1 F, 3 Ds and 1 C-.  There must be some mistake you think.  After all, your son is an honor student.  Maybe his teachers confused him with another student.  He has been telling you for months now that he was up very late doing his homework at night.  Why don’t his grades reflect this?  Could these possibly be his grades?  

You have also noticed that his friends aren’t calling so much anymore and no one drops by to shoot hoops or just hang out.  He recently made some weak excuses for dropping out of intramural basketball which he loves and he hasn’t attended any of his older brother’s football games this semester.  He used to putter around with the old corvair his father bought to restore for his 16th birthday however you haven’t seen him even go out to the garage to look at the car he couldn’t wait to drive and call his own.

So what is going on here?  You have respected his desire for privacy while studying as he hibernated in his bedroom doing homework.  You are aware your son plays some video games after school in the family room with the Xbox on the big screen TV but it’s usually only for an hour or so.  But then lately you’ve noticed he has been more irritable in the morning, barking at his younger sister with a different, more aggressive tone of voice.  The new behaviors remind you of someone who might be using marijuana or even drinking alcohol.  But this young man has always been against any use of drugs or alcohol.  What is he doing alone in his room at night on his computer?  Is he sneaking out to the family room after the rest of the family has gone to bed to play video games?  These games can be played on any laptop, computer or TV.  Could it be the video games?

What is an Addiction?

There are substance abuse addictions (alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription medications) and there are behavioral addictions [food, sex, gambling, spending, pornography, internet and video games] to name a few.  Whatever the substance or behavior, there are common threads that tie them together in recognizing dependency.  These threads or symptoms may include:

1) Preoccupation: constantly thinking about your drug or behavior to the extent you fail to participate in your life in the present moment;

2)  Social isolation:  withdrawing from friends and family in order to do the behavior; drop participation in sports and hobbies and things one used to enjoy;

3)  Decrease in performance at school/work; losing a job; kicked out of school;

4)  Physical and Mental Health issues:  obesity or loss of weight; loss of sleep (several individuals have died due to going nonstop for up to 50+ hours playing video games without food, water or sleep); depression; increased anxiety and irritability; possible increased aggression; PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from playing the more violent video games; lying in attempt to cover up the behavior; desire to escape own reality; wishing to change the way one feels; hiding the fact they are involved in the behavior;

6)  Increase in tolerance: it takes more and more of the behavior to feel the desired relief until the individual passes out from alcohol, drugs or lack of sleep.

7)  Family relationships become strained: denial; blame; no communication; secrets; arguments, anger and resentments.

Basically, an addiction is any behavior (chemical or behavioral) an individual is doing that eventually interferes with and causes problems in all areas of their life.  A video game addiction is no different. 

Statistics of Prevalence

To date the American Psychological Association has not declared video games as an addiction, part of any mental health disorders or even as a subtype of  internet addiction.  A study done at the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2008 found that more males than females get captivated by and sometimes addicted to video games.  The reward center in the brain tends to become more activated in the male playing video games.  The study looked at territoriality in men and women and surmised; because most of the popular video games are territory and aggression-type games, males appear to be 2-3 times more apt to outnumber the females with an addiction.  The findings concur with the tendency in most males to be more territorial and aggressive than females and therefore, males are more apt to be attracted to these types of stimuli, potentially becoming addicted.  

Treatment and Help

Treatment for video game addiction is much the same as for alcoholics and drug addicts beginning with a detox or withdrawal from the behavior.  The only way this works is with complete abstinence from the behavior.  The difficulty with this type of addiction is its similarity to a food addiction.  The individual requires food to live on a daily basis and therefore can not totally abstain from eating.  Computers have become an integral part of our world and daily usage at work and/or school.  Therefore the individual must learn to use the computer responsibly.  An Xbox and cassette games may be removed but still the home computer can be a real challenge.  A solution may be to have the individual do all of his/her homework on the computer in a public area in the home.  Removing the computer from the bedroom helps with accountability.  The ‘game addict’ will have an easier time if he/she can recognize how the behavior has interfered and caused problems in most areas of his/her life.  And just like with any addiction, the individual must make a decision to remain abstinent one day at a time.

This article was provided by: Terrell S. Smith, LPC, LISAC, Therapist and Richard L. Smith, LISAC Therapist at the Center for Recovering Families in N. AZ. Terrell S. Smith (480) 239-4330, Richard L. Smith (480) 363-9933.

Cynthia Peterson





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