video games

Symptoms of video game addiction – getting it under control

Can a game truly become an addiction for children and young adults? Experts say absolutely- It’s a clinical impulse control disorder, an addiction in the same sense as compulsive gambling.

Spending a lot of time playing video games doesn’t necessarily qualify as an addiction for children and young adults. The question that needs to be asked is: Can they always control their gaming activity?”

Warning signs/symptoms

Video game addiction signs and symptoms to watch for in children and young adults include, but are not limited to:

  • They are lying about or minimizing time spent playing video games. (Does your child tell you they spent 1 hour playing, but you know they played for 2 hours or more? Perhaps they are even lying about computer or video game use so that computer or video game privileges aren’t taken away. )
  • They exhibit defensive behavior.  (Are you getting an angry reaction or an outright denial when asking your child about their video game playing?)
  • Most of their “free time,” non-school hours are spent on the computer or playing video games. Other parts of their life, like hobbies, schoolwork, friends, or sports can become neglected, because they are devoting more and more time to game play.
  • They are fatigued all the time, perhaps even falling asleep in school.
  • They are hiding feelings. Some kids and teens turn to video games as an escape, to avoid dealing with upsetting emotions, real-life problems and even anxiety, or depression.
  • They are not keeping up with homework and/or not turning in assignments on time.
  • They exhibit worsening irritable, cranky or agitated behavior when not playing video games on TV or the computer.
  • Keeping documentation and logs of when your child plays and for how long, what are the problems that are resulting from gaming and how your child reacts to time limits will help if there is a potential problem and you intend to seek professional help.

Get it under “control “

If you are concerned about the amount of time your child or young adult is playing any kind of video games and the possibility of addiction to video games, take action! Limiting the amount of play should put some balance back into their lives, and make way for other activities and help avoid possible addiction to video games.

However, if attempts to limit game playing are marked anger and increased aggression in your child, it means that there is an addictive quality to their playing and they may actually have an “addiction to video games.”  If this is the Video game addiction in teens and young adultscase, playing needs to be ceased altogether. Because limiting game time, as some people have suggested, to an hour a day lets say, may be comparable to an alcoholic saying they’re only going to drink one beer!

Treatment for video game addiction is similar to detox for other addictions, with one important difference: Computers have become an important part of everyday life. Even in school computers are now used on a daily basis. So just like with a food addiction, for example, children and young adults with a video game addiction must learn to live with it being around them all the time and to be responsible.

As ironic as it may sound, there are actually computer applications available now that can be downloaded and configured to block access to the internet- namely Freedom © and SelfControl ©. This may support initial efforts at gaining control and responsibility.

However, a mere distraction or deterrent to keep your child from being on the Internet won’t be of much help to get over video game addictions. Getting the actual habit out of their system completely is what seems to really matter. Perhaps the biggest key to getting gaming under control is to show gamers they are powerless over their addiction, and then teach them “real-life excitement as opposed to online excitement.”

Some other helpful tips and suggestions for your child may be: Exercise– going for a walk, to the park, to a sports/rec center etc…/ Develop a hobby- learning to play an instrument, paint, sing, dance etc…/ Allocate specific time for using the computer for things other than video games/ Have them use reference books instead of always looking things up on the computer/ Go to bed early.

Parents report amazing results from limiting video game usage or removing it completely for children working through a video game addiction. Freedom from the addiction allows kids to actually start going outside to play, regain interest in their toys, friends, school and to join in family activities. Most importantly, getting these addictions under control allows children their most cherished right- the right to be happy, joyous and free!

Teens getting hooked on Video Games

What are they and why do they effect teens?

Most teenagers can and do play video games without developing an addiction. However, for some teens there is no question that their computer use is unhealthy and excessive by anyone’s standards. For them video games take priority over all other activities, and development in other areas (school, relationships, clubs, sports) are sacrificed just so that more time can be spent in front of the computer or tv screen. It really does not matter if this is called an “addiction” or not.  Teens who continue to play excessively despite experiencing significantvideo game addiction in teens negative consequences in other areas of their lives are likely “hooked” on video games.

Many people have been arguing that teens don’t play video games excessively because video games themselves are unnaturally addictive; Rather that teens probably self-medicate with video games to excess because they have serious emotional problems. Blaming video game addiction on video games themselves, they say, is dangerous – because the real issues and the real problems are allowed to pass through and fester into more dangerous developmental/ emotional problems.

However, more recently, parents and researchers are speaking up: There are numerous studies showing that, for some teens, games have the same effect on their brain as habit-forming drugs; that playing video games floods the player’s brain with dopamine, a mood-regulating hormone that induces pleasurable feelings. Scientists liken this hit of dopamine to that observed following intravenous injections of amphetamine or methylphenidate, a drug used to treat ADHD.

What makes some games SO addictive?

There are several different “hooks” programmed into games that keep players riveted to the virtual action. Not all of them exist in every single game, but the more that are present, the greater the chance of teenaged video game players becoming hooked.

  • Beating the Game. For this hook, the desire to beat the game increases as a player “levels up,” or finds the next hidden clue. To conquer a game, one must spend untold hours navigating increasingly difficult levels. Video games are designed to feed a never-ending and growing appetite for more and more and more… requiring searching every nook and cranny of screen space for hidden bonuses, leading to the second addictive quality etc …
  • Exploration. Some games are entirely about traversing and studying imaginary worlds. That’s a powerful draw made stronger by the inclusion of secret levels, which have been built into video games since the earliest edition of “Super Mario Bros.”
  • Mastery. Video game programmers build feedback into the game (i.e. hand controllers vibrate when your player is “shot”) so that players get visual and physical responses to what they’re doing onscreen. Psychologically, this fuels the learning process, making the player even more eager to ‘master’ elements of the game.
  • The High Score. This is probably the most easily recognizable hook. Of course, beating the high score has been an incentive since the earliest pinball machines and video games I played at the candy store in the 80’s. But video games now are different in that the higher you go, the more difficult the game becomes. Players spend countless hours trying to get a new high score, even if the one they’re besting is their own.
  • Story-Driven & Role-Playing. Everyone wants to know how the story ends, whether it’s a children’s fairy tale or a plot-driven video game. Some games let teens control an onscreen figure, but role-playing games go much deeper by allowing the player to create and become the character in a story. An emotional attachment to the character and the story makes it much harder to stop playing, that is why more and more games are constructed around a foundational story.
  • Discovery. These games hook teens because they involve exploring imaginary worlds. This adventure/thrill of discovery (even of places that don’t really exist) can be extremely compelling.
  • Competition. Boys and girls love the thrill of competition. With multiplayer options, teens can take on both the game and other gamers for “bragging rights”. It seems some committed fans go so far as to schedule activities and sleep patterns to accommodate a network of online partners or opponents.
  • Relationships. Online role-playing games allow teens to build relationships with other players. This online community of peers becomes the place where players are most accepted, which draws them back. The fantasy of role-playing games let teens create personas that are much different from who they are in real life. For example, an overweight, athletically challenged boy can become a muscle-bound superhero in an online world, thus making friends with people who would not normally associate with him. Pressure to keep up with online peers also produces powerful incentives to keep improving.

Popular video games that teens are HOOKING into:

Then there are the MMORPG’s (Massively multiplayer online role-playing games) such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Everquest. These are popular because they feature persistent game environments, forms of progression, social interactions within the game, membership in a group, and character customization.

Getting unhooked- go cold turkey?

The psychologically addictive elements of video gaming become even more troublesome when you consider that they affect young people precisely at the time when their developing brains are being hardwired for life. Video games present a source of stimulation: because games provide intense visual & auditory action, they can be very compelling for thrill or excitement seekers (especially those with AD/HD). They also provide negative reinforcement: when game playing provides rapid relief of emotional teen pain or angst, it can become habit-forming.

During teenage years, children are acquiring tastes for what they’ll enjoy in life. So there’s a dampening of the ability to enjoy music, to enjoy art, to enjoy reading, to enjoy all these other things when their video games take precedence over everything.

In moderation, it has been shown that some video games can provide a fun diversion for teens wired to handle them well, particularly if families use multiplayer games to bond with adolescents. It is Important to stress that not every teen who plays video games will have a hard time putting them down, but studies show that as many as one in three gamers will eventually get hooked! Perhaps in those homes, “game over” may be the wisest strategy.