Video Game Addiction Guides & Articles

Catrina Cowart
Last updated:
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical Editor

What Is Video Game Addiction?

Video or internet gaming addiction presents as a lack of control over gaming habits. As a result of the loss of control, negative consequences occur. For example, the person may not take care of their health or may develop negative relationships at work or school. 1

This type of addiction is a behavioral addiction, which means it involves behaviors rather than substances. Researchers say the “rush” of winning becomes a push to keep playing, even when gaming negatively impacts the person’s life or becomes consuming.

Around 1.7% to 10% of the population has a video game addiction. People with low self-control, anxiety, or impulsivity are often at risk of developing the addiction. Behavioral risk factors include:

  • Increased gaming time during the week
  • Attending offline gaming community meet-ups
  • Spending an increasing amount of money on gaming

Playing games doesn’t necessarily constitute addiction. However, when addiction develops, it often leads to negligence in other areas of life, such as self-care or work-life balance.

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What Causes Video Game Addiction?

There’s no single cause of video game addiction. However, the release of dopamine, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that comes from winning or playing games, could play a role in video game addiction. Dopamine’s release creates a rewarding or motivating sensation that can lead to the continuation of the act that caused its release. 1

Interestingly, neurological research has shown that those with video game addictions have similar brain scans to those with substance use disorders. 1 When people experience hyperarousal (an excessive arousal due to increased dopamine release) during gameplay, the brain associates gaming with positivity. When they play, they feel good, which leads to a strong drive to continue playing in the future. This self-reinforcing process leads to addiction over time. It can also lead to withdrawal symptoms if a person can’t play games like usual. 2

Adolescents (particularly males) are prone to video game addiction, but anyone can become addicted. Certain personality factors, such as lower social skills, impulsiveness, and a greater acceptance of violence, may play a role in the development of video game addiction. Those who are unhappy with their lives may also become addicted to video games at a greater rate. 3

What Are the Symptoms of Video Game Addiction?

Video game addiction signs vary from person to person, but some common ones include: 2

  • Skipping or limiting social or recreational activities to play video games
  • Lying about the extent of video gaming in daily life
  • Needing more time gaming to get the same level of enjoyment
  • Continuing to play games, even when they affect the person’s performance at work or school
  • Spending money on games despite being unable to afford to
  • Becoming angry, anxious, or irritable when unable to play
  • Neglecting self-care

This list isn’t exhaustive. If gaming has a negative impact on aspects of a person’s life, video game addiction is a possibility.

How Is Video Game Addiction Diagnosed?

The first step to diagnosing video game addiction is reaching out to a healthcare provider. Physicians may offer referrals to psychologists or psychiatrists who will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose the disorder. In DSM-5, internet gaming disorder is listed in a special section (Section III) as a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it can be included in the main book as a formal disorder.

Patients answer questions about their medical and personal health. They also discuss their gaming patterns with a psychiatrist or psychologist. 1 Internet gaming disorder diagnoses occur when the gaming behavior patterns are so severe or extreme that they impair a person’s social, educational, occupational, or personal functions. Generally, the patterns have to persist for at least a year. 1

Effects of Video Game Addiction

Video game addictions affect people differently—they may impact their hygiene, work, schooling, or personal relationships. As the addiction behaviors become more extreme, they often lead to significant impairment of occupational and social functioning. 1

Those with video game addictions may isolate themselves or stop interacting with others at work or school. They may miss work days or school days, stop participating in activities they normally enjoyed, or cut off friends and family.

Best Treatment for Video Game Addiction

Healthcare providers typically suggest psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) to treat the underlying cause of the behaviors. 1 Some forms of therapy that might help with video game addiction include:

  • Group therapy: In this type of psychotherapy, peers discuss their problems together.
  • Marriage counseling: This type of therapy educates spouses about the disorder.
  • Family counseling: This may be used to educate family or friends about the disorder.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Also known as  CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-focused and helps the individual understand their thoughts and emotions. It helps the person identify harmful or obsessive thought patterns and teaches them how to change those patterns into healthier habits.

No two people are exactly the same, so the specific treatments for video game addiction may vary.

How To Cope With Video Game Addiction

Whether the individual or someone they care about has to address video game addiction, the primary way to cope is through patience, followed by seeking advice from a healthcare provider. Finding help to treat video game addiction is possible. During recovery, it’s normal for the individual to feel anxious, depressed, or angry. Those around them should focus on staying present and being there for them. They can also look for ways to create distractions, such as planning time away from home where a computer system is readily available for use.

Encouragement and support are powerful tools to get the person through withdrawal so they can move forward in life. 4

How To Help Someone With Video Game Addiction

Those with friends or family who have a suspected video game addiction may want to speak to healthcare providers for their suggestions first. 4 Licensed mental health professionals have the skills needed to offer CBT, which is the primary video game addiction treatment. 5 The professional will take time to diagnose the individual and set up appointments for the therapies that work best to support recovery. 5 Addictions are strong and may cause significant distress, so having a plan in place to reduce symptoms while supporting the person’s recovery is key. 4