New Studies Show Video Game Addiction Leads to Mental Illness
Video Game Addiction, or “gaming disorder,” was recently classified as a disease by the WHO. It is an impulse control disorder, similar to pathological gambling, which does not involve the use of an intoxicating substance.
Excessive video gaming, particularly Internet gaming, has been linked to depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and social phobia. An alarming number of adolescents and young adults devote an inordinate amount of time to engaging in video games.
Internet video gaming involves playing online with other people. It tends to be especially addictive because most generally have no ending whereas standard video games involve a single player and a clear goal or mission to achieve. Internet video game players create and temporarily become an online character, building relationships with other online players. It is an escape from reality and for some players, it may be the place they feel the most accepted.
This dissociation from reality and real-life relationships results in social isolation and detachment and notably contributes to increased depression and anxiety. The prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideations increase with along with playing time.
While most relationships for addicted gamers deteriorate, it is important to note that family relationships are often the most adversely affected. At a stage in life when parental interaction is vital, gamers tend to withdraw. Additionally, friendships lose importance, grades drop, sleep problems occur, anxiety increases, and other interests are lost, all of which further contribute to the depression, resulting in a vicious circle.
Studies Reveal a Link Between Gaming and Depression
Studies show a bidirectional interrelation between Internet gaming addiction and depression symptoms. Some gamers play to cope with emotional stress, but prolonged Internet gaming can result in withdrawal from real-life relationships, often leading to depression. Thus, the symptoms of addiction and depression for Internet gamers have a reciprocal influence on each other.
- Pediatrics (journal) published results of a study in January 2018, which involved 3,000 students in grades 3, 4, 7, and 8 over the course of two years. More time playing video games led to depression, anxiety, and social issues 2 years later, combined with grades dropping, impulse control suffering, and most notably relationship deterioration. Another study published in The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine studied 1,000 Chinese teens’ gaming habits and found that participants exhibiting excessive Internet use (mostly for video games) were two times as likely to be depressed in as little as 9 months later than those whose use was not excessive. If these excessive gamers cut back on playing, they showed fewer signs of depression.
- Journal of Health Psychology published results of a study in December 2017 involving more than 130,000 participants who were video gamers of all ages. Depression and anxiety were prominent, and gaming was determined to be the cause of 16% of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) issues.
- BMC Psychiatry published results of an extensive study in July 2012 on the association between online gaming, social phobia, and depression. Among 722 online gamers aged approximately 16 to 18, the study found a positive correlation between online gaming time and depression. Increased playing time resulted in increased negative consequences, and a prevalence of suicide ideation, anxiety, OCD, lack of or deteriorated real-life relationships, and low self-esteem.
- Journal of Affective Disorders published results of a study in January 2018 of 1,205 undergraduate college students who reported playing video games. This study compared video game addicts to healthy controls matched demographically and on overall health measures. Participants who reported higher hours of video game time displayed increased depression and anxiety and were more socially isolated.
- Frontiers in Psychiatry published the results of a study in January 2018 of 563 students aged 16-21 who could participate only if they had spent an average of 20% of their daily time on Internet gaming during the years the data were collected. The study focused on changes or differences in the brain and found that gamers exhibited enhanced connectivity between the amygdala (emotional) and prefrontal cortex (executive, reasoning) areas. Aberrant connectivity between these two networks is closely associated with and may underlie depression. This finding strongly supports Internet gaming addiction and depression symptoms being closely interrelated.
Warning Signs of Gaming Addiction
Warning signs exist for all types of addictions, and video game addiction is no exception. Here are many of the warning signs that you or someone you care about has a problem with video gaming:
- Playing in secret, or lying to family members, friends, or others about time spent playing or extent of involvement with the game
- Isolating from family and friends to play video games
- Using games to escape from reality, or to relieve feelings of hopelessness, anxiety or depression
- Showing signs of anxiety or depression
- Alienating from/deteriorating relationships with friends and family
- Becoming restless, moody, irritable, or depressed when unable to game
- Suffering from sleep disturbance and/or fatigue
- Losing interest in other activities and hobbies, and real-life relationships
- Increasingly ignoring personal hygiene
- Eating irregularities such as skipping meals
- Changes in weight (noticeable loss or gain)
- Migraines caused by intense concentration or eye strain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive use of gaming device or mouse
Specifically for students:
- Tendency to fall asleep during school
- Not completing homework or assignments on time
- Declining grades
- Dropping out of school activities, sports, clubs
Compulsive gamers can suffer from reactions that are similar to withdrawal such as anger, depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and upset stomach when game time is withheld.
As this is a newly recognized addiction classification, few support groups are currently available. Online Gamers Anonymous, a nonprofit organization that offers a 12-step program for recovery from video game addiction, is one notable group.
- Inpatient treatment is best for addicted gamers who need to leave their environment altogether for a time in order to effectively begin recovery. Inpatient treatment centers offer group therapy, individual counseling, and an atmosphere free of gaming. They help patients relearn healthy coping skills in a safe environment designed to make the patient feel comfortable and supported while beginning the journey to recovery.
- Outpatient treatment (commonly referred to as intensive outpatient, or IOP) offers many of the benefits of inpatient treatment while allowing the patient to maintain a more normal daily routine. This option is best suited for someone with a good support system already in place and/or with some established recovery time.
Given the apparent link between video game addiction and depression, dual diagnosis treatment— treatment that addresses both the addiction and some degree of mental illness—may be necessary. It is often hard to initially know whether the gaming addiction or the depression is causing the problem. This is when a medical professional can help with finding the root cause and determining the best treatment path.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The most common therapy method to regain self-control that is lost through addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Applying CBT, an addict will, with direction, learn how to change behaviors and perceptions regarding the relevance of video games. Often the addiction is the result of another underlying problem such as pre-existing depression or anxiety, which CBT can also address and teach the addict how to cope with.
CBT allows addicts to shift the way they think, replacing irrational thoughts that lead to compulsive gaming with healthier patterns of thinking. In a nutshell, CBT allows a person to learn how to modify thoughts, feelings, and ultimately resulting behaviors for the better.
Treatment begins by identifying and focusing on the thoughts that lead down the path to addictive behavior. From there, CBT techniques are introduced, learned, and practiced to overcome the thinking that culminates in compulsive gaming.
Continued research into video and computer gaming addictions will hopefully uncover information that will aid in the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment options that will further help medical professionals treat patients. In addition to the possibility of addiction, video games can substantially decrease a child or adult’s physical activity. Setting boundaries and rules for kids to ensure they are getting enough exercise as opposed to sitting in front of their gaming system may aid in the prevention of a video game addiction. To learn more, check out the following pages.
- Video Game Addiction No Fun
- The Psychology of Video Game Addiction
- Quiz: Is Your Kid Addicted to Video Games?
- Researchers Identify Risk Factors For Addictive Video Game Use
- Digital Citizenship: Game Addiction
- Identifying Video Game Addiction in Children & Adolescents
- Social Consequences of Online Gaming Addiction
- Correlates of Video Game Addiction
- Video Game Addiction in Teens
- Effect of Video Games on Child Development
- Gaming Addiction: Current Perspectives