A growing concern worldwide has been the excessive use of video games and other digital media that is becoming more and more common. Parents have begun to see the negative impact that excessive and compulsive gaming and digital addiction can have on their children. We have also seen that many young people and adults are beginning to seek help.
It’s hard to determine the exact percentage of people who play video games because it varies significantly depending on the age group, as well as the region being considered. However, it is becoming clear that gaming is a very popular hobby for many people. A survey conducted by the Entertainment Software Association in 2020 showed that around 65% of adults in the United States reported playing video games. This number is likely higher among youth and young adults and other research has suggested that as many as 97% of youth play video games in some form.
Very young children, including those as young as two, are increasingly exposed to modern technology like smartphones, iPads, and laptops and are able to use them proficiently for gaming and other activities. Parents have begun to rely on technology, including electronics, TV, and games, as a way to occupy their children, especially when they are feeling overwhelmed or busy. As our lives get busier more parents may turn to technology as a way to provide entertainment and supervision for their children, especially when they are stretched for time or feeling stressed. For most, this will not become a problem but for a small percentage of people, this can lead to negative consequences, including addiction.
A little-known fact is that video game designers will employ techniques to keep players engaged and coming back for more, including using sounds, graphics, and lights designed to illicit a dopamine release. They even employ behavioural psychologists to maximise this effect. Through the use of in-game rewards and loot boxes and chests, they provide players with a sense of accomplishment and progress, as well as the thrill of winning the big prize, which encourages them to keep playing.
Mobile games are especially notorious for this and free-to-play games - which even have the option to spend real money for in-game items and boosts - often incorporate elements of gambling. While not just providing the ability to become financially unmanageable they can be particularly addictive due to their accessibility and the ability to play for short periods of time but still get ahead through purchases. These types of games appeal to casual players and may because they can spend money in order to progress or unlock additional content.
Education about gaming addiction and the potential risks associated with it has been limited, so far. While some people may view gaming as a harmless activity that can be enjoyed in moderation, a certain section of the population that are prone to addiction can develop patterns of behaviour that are similar to substance use disorders. They become compulsively engaged in gaming and experience negative consequences in their lives as a result.
Research has shown that excessive gaming can lead to changes in the prefrontal cortex. This can result in a decrease in willpower and an increase in impulsive behavior. It is also possible that excessive gaming play can lead to a numbing of normal pleasure because the brain becomes accustomed to the high levels of stimulation and reward provided by video games. This can make it difficult for people to find enjoyment and satisfaction in other activities and lead to a reliance on video games as a source of pleasure.
The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes a category called "Internet Gaming Disorder" (IGD), which can be used to diagnose individuals who exhibit problematic patterns of video game play.
To meet the criteria for IGD, an individual must experience significant impairment in their daily functioning as a result of their video game play and must exhibit at least five of the following symptoms:
Preoccupation with video games, resulting in a neglect of other interests and activities
Withdrawal symptoms when unable to play video games
Tolerance, or the need to play for increasing amounts of time in order to achieve the desired level of excitement or reward
Loss of control over the amount of time spent playing video games
Deception about the amount of time spent playing video games
Use of video games to escape from negative moods or to cope with real-life problems
Risking significant relationships or opportunities because of video game play
Loss of interest in previous hobbies or activities
Continued video game play despite negative consequences
There are several potential long-term health effects of gaming addiction. These can include
Aggression: Prolonged gaming can lead to an increase in aggressive thoughts or behaviour - particularly when an at-risk person is playing a particularly time-sensitive game or games with an added real-world money element.
Social isolation: Spending excessive amounts of time playing games can lead to a lack of social interaction, which can have negative impacts on mental health.
A Gradual Degradation of Physical Health: Spending long periods of time sitting and staring at a screen can lead to physical issues like obesity, poor posture, carpal tunnel syndrome, and dry eyes.
Deterioration of Mental Health: Gaming addiction can lead to problems with concentration and memory, and it has been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Issues with Sleep: Excessive gaming can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to sleep deprivation - this may give rise to a whole host of health issues related to a lack of healthy sleep.
It's important to remember that these long-term health consequences don't relate to everyone who plays video games. However, it can affect those who have developed an unhealthy relationship with gaming and screen time.
For those who have identified with the above symptoms of gaming addiction, or have experienced or witnessed a loved one experience any of the above consequences, please know that there is help available for gaming and screen addiction.
Treating gaming and screen addiction is unique because internet use is often a necessary part of daily life. For some, it is even a part of their livelihood. So, in most cases, the goal of treatment is not to completely abstain from screens, it is to learn to use them appropriately and to prevent them from interfering with one's life. To achieve this, Horizon Rehab offers a combination of specialised addiction counselling as well as holistic wellness treatments to address digital addiction from all angles.
Behavioural therapy for gaming and screen addiction includes cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques, and a 12-Step approach to addiction recovery. This approach has been proven to be effective with several behavioural addictions, including gaming, internet, and gambling addictions.
Your assigned addiction therapist will work with you to create an individual plan for your recovery. Your plan may include one-to-one and group therapy, family therapy, as well as a carefully crafted and unique relapse prevention plan and aftercare support.
In addition to conventional therapy, Horizon also offers a range of alternative therapies to support your work in treatment. These may include yoga, art therapy, spa and massage therapy, a comprehensive health and fitness program, and even Muay Thai. These holistic approaches can help you build a foundation of overall wellness as you work towards recovery.
It is important to note that we at Horizon Rehab Center take your recovery very seriously and adhere to a strict phone and digital screen policy. We do this as a way to protect those coming into treatment as well as those already within our community. Those who are joining us for digital and gaming addiction will likewise be subject to a no-phone no-screen policy for the duration of their time with us. However, certain provisions can be discussed with your therapist based on your circumstances such as family, children, etc.
We understand that the first few days of being in treatment without technology can be difficult. Please know that this is a completely normal emotional experience and is a part of the recovery process.
It is common for people who are ceasing their internet use and gaming addiction to feel quite similar to those who are detoxing from drugs and alcohol. Clients often feel a sense of emptiness or a lack of purpose at the beginning of their cessation. Our program at Horizon is designed in such a way that we help clients find ways to fill the void left by the absence of their addiction - be it substance or behaviour. We facilitate clients to engage in other activities that provide enjoyment and fulfilment. The philosophy behind this is the importance of building a life and recovery that is worth holding onto.
The process of detoxing from gaming addiction can be emotionally challenging, which is why clients have 24-hour support from our highly trained clinical, and support staff. They are there to support you in your most vulnerable time and help you move toward a healthier and happier life in recovery.
If you or a loved one is struggling with the amount of time they spend online, either on social media or gaming, know that there is help available. Please contact us today for a free no-obligation clinical assessment with our highly-trained admissions counsellor and take the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about our program.