What is Videogame Addiction?
Computer game addiction or videogame addiction is a compulsive need to spend excessive amounts of time engaged in computer games such that other important areas of life (e.g., school work, friendships, chores, family outings, etc.) are neglected. Studies have shown that teenagers and young people are particularly vulnerable to developing computer game addiction, as are individuals who are suffering from another mental health condition (e.g., anxiety, depression) or who have experienced isolation or significant changes in lifestyle (e.g., moving house).
Signs that you or your child may have a problem include
- Difficulty with sticking to limits you set for yourself on game-playing or losing track of time while game-playing e.g., intending to play for 15-20 minutes and then feeling surprised an hour or two later that you are still playing.
- Spending excessive amounts of time playing computer games such that other important life tasks are neglected e.g., no longer spending time with friends because you would prefer to be playing computer games, not meeting deadlines at work because you are constantly on the net, not doing regular essential household chores because all your spare time is dedicated to playing games.
- Changes in mood when not playing computer games e.g., an increase in irritability or decrease in mood when you are not logged on to social media.
- A marked increase in distress or anxiety at the thought of not being able to go play games e.g., if the thought of going for half a day without playing computer games is unbearable
- When other people think it is a problem. If your partner, parents or friends are constantly complaining that you spend too much time playing games then it may be time to consider making changes to your internet behaviour.
Why do people become addicted to computer games?
At present there are a number of theories outlining why people may develop a videogame addiction including the following:
There is some evidence to suggest that the reward centre in the brain may be activated when we use technology, resulting in ‘feel-good’ chemicals being released into the brain. Studies have shown that a higher level of these chemicals is released when we share personal information with others than when we talk about other topics. This may be one reason why computer games are so popular.
Managing unpleasant feelings
Computer games provide opportunities to escape from the demands and difficulties of everyday life including the unpleasant feelings that are a normal part of being human e.g., anxiety, loneliness, depression, stress and boredom. Using the internet also allows us to waste time and procrastinate from completing difficult or unpleasant tasks, allowing further avoidance of unpleasant feelings.
Computer games present opportunities to establish new relationships through online gaming with other players and increase a person’s confidence in relating to others without the usual added social pressures. It allows an individual to present themselves however they choose and to be in control of their own image.
What treatment is available?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating computer game addiction. As there are a number of underlying causes for computer game addiction, treatment will involve a comprehensive assessment which will enable the psychologist to understand the factors that have contributed to the difficulties and to tailor the treatment approach to the specific needs of the individual. Treatment will most likely include a combination of the following strategies:
This strategy will help you to evaluate unhelpful thoughts or beliefs which may be maintaining the addictive behaviours. Examples of such thoughts include “If I don’t play I’ll feel anxious all day and won’t be able to do anything else”.
These include setting achievable behavioural goals in relation to computer game usage and making changes to unhelpful behaviours such as reducing the frequency of playing. Additional strategies that break the pattern of behaviour such as changing the schedule of game playing and using “stoppers” (i.e., activities that enforce limits on game-playing) are also discussed.
Often, as game-playing becomes more problematic, other interests and relationships are neglected or fail to develop as would be expected. Therapy will assist you to evaluate how gaming addiction has monopolised your time and what other activities, interests, or relationships have been neglected as a result. Therapy will involve setting goals to re-engage in old interests that have been neglected and/or to develop new interests separate from gaming and to assist you to live more in line with your values.
Managing Difficult Feelings
Therapy will involve teaching you alternative and more adaptive strategies for managing your emotional experiences so that you do not need to turn to gaming to improve your mood or reduce feelings of anxiety or stress.
Treatment for other conditions
Other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and procrastination can leave you vulnerable to developing problematic computer game playing. If additional mental health difficulties are identified cognitive-behavioural interventions can be used to effectively treat these difficulties and reduce vulnerability to computer game addiction.
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for computer game and videogame addiction or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.