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What is Video-game addiction?

Video game addiction is described as an impulse control disorder, which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling.  Video game addiction has also been referred to as video game overuse, pathological or compulsive/excessive use of computer games and/or video games.

Those suffering from video game addiction may use the Internet to access massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and multi-user domain games (MUDs).  MMORPGs are networks of people, all interacting with one another to play a game to achieve goals, accomplish missions, and reach high scores in a fantasy world.  MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, fighting, and killing in a social chat channel with limited graphics.  Some of the most popular on-line games include EverQuest, Asheron Call, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Vanguard, and City of Heroes.  Most MMORPGs charge monthly subscription fee.

Similar to other addictions, individuals suffering from video game addiction use the virtual fantasy world to connect with real people through the Internet, as a substitution for real-life human connection, which they are unable to achieve normally.  Some suffering from video game addiction may develop an emotional attachment to on-line friends and activities they create on their computer screens. Those suffering from video game addiction may enjoy aspects of the on-line games that allow them to meet, socialize, and exchange ideas through games.  Because some games requires a large number of players to log on simultaneously, for long durations of time, to accomplish a game’s task, players may feel an obligation and loyalty to other players. This may further the individual’s justification of his/her use and sense of relationship with other players, that are otherwise strangers.

Statistics show that men and boys are more likely to become addicted to video games versus women and girls.  Recent research has found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers (ages 8-18) can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming.

What are the warning signs of video game addiction?

Preoccupation with the Game.  (Thoughts about previous on-line activity or anticipation of the next on-line session.)

Use of the Game in increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction.

Repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Game use.

Feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression, or irritability when attempting to cut down use of the Game.

Gaming longer than originally intended.

Jeopardized or risked loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunities because of Game use.

Lies to family members, friends, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Game.

Use of the Game is a way to escape from problems or to relieve a dysphoric mood.  (e.g. feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, depression.)

Additional warning signs for children include:

Fatigue, tendency to fall asleep during school

Not completing homework or assignments on time

Declining grades, or failing classes

Dropping out of school activities, clubs, sports, etc.

Isolating from family and friends to play video games

What are the effects?

Gaming addictions result in personal, family, academic, financial, and occupational problems that are characteristic of other addictions.  Impairments of real life relationships are disrupted as a result of excessive use of the Game.  Those suffering from video game addiction spend more time in solitary seclusion, spend less time with real people in their lives, and are often viewed as socially awkward. Arguments may result due to the volume of time spent playing.  They may attempt to conceal the amount of time spent playing, which results in distrust and the disturbance of quality in once stable relationships.  Additionally, gaming can become very costly, resorting in financial consequences.  Much of the equipment needed to play video games designed for prolonged use can be quite costly and many MMORPGs charge monthly subscription fees.

Some individuals may create on-line personas or "Avatars" where he/she are able to alter his/her identities and pretend to be someone other than himself or herself.  Those at highest risk for creation of a secret life are those who suffer from low-self esteem feelings of inadequacy, and fear of disapproval.  Such negative self-concepts lead to clinical problems of depression and anxiety.

Many persons who attempt to quit their Game use experience withdrawal including: anger, depression, relief, fantasies about the game, mood swings, anxiety, fear, irritability, sadness, loneliness, boredom, restlessness, procrastination, and upset stomach.  Being addicted to video-gaming can also cause physical discomfort or medical problems such as: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, backaches, severe headaches, eating irregularities, such as skipping meals, failure to attend to personal hygiene, and sleep disturbance.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor trained in identification and treatment video-game addiction can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.  For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome.

Sources:  "Virtual Addiction" David N. Greenfield, Ph.D., "Caught in the Net" Dr. Kimberly Young, Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, American Psychiatric Association, Online Gamers Anonymous (, Gentile, D.A. (2009).  Pathological video game use among youth 8 to 18:  a national study.  Psychological Science, 20, 594-602.