Can Computer Games Really Lead to Addiction?

The addiction to video games is different from the addiction caused by psychoactive substances like alcohol and heroin. However, addiction to video games can cause another form of addiction – behavioral addiction. This condition is not as destructive as narcotic addiction. But if it is not controlled, it can still ruin a person’s life.

At the same time, a preference for computer games can lead to another form of addiction – behavioral addiction. This condition is not as destructive as drug addiction. However, if left unchecked, it can also significantly harm a person’s life.

What are the similarities and differences between drug addiction and gaming addiction?

Behavioral specialists believe that absolutely anything that stimulates the brain and produces pleasant experiences can cause addiction or habituation. Any habit can be controlled and eliminated if desired.

However, when a person cannot do without stimulation and begins to prioritize it over other activities, chronic brain disease called addiction begins.

According to neurobiologists’ observations, addiction can be caused not only by psychoactive drugs but also by games. As soon as a person addicted to computer games sits down in front of a monitor, the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and maintaining this behavior are activated. The same areas of the brain are activated in drug addicts when they think about substances.

Both computer games and psychoactive substances can be enjoyable and so addictive that there is no time, energy, or desire for other activities. Victims of both addictions usually understand that satisfying their desire will lead to serious problems such as losing their job and family, but they still cannot stop.

However, there is a significant difference between addiction to games and psychoactive substances. Unlike alcohol and drugs, computer games are not toxic. If psychoactive substances directly harm physical health, gradually destroying the liver, brain, and other internal organs, games can only harm indirectly by pushing a person to lead an unproductive sedentary lifestyle.

In addition, excessive involvement in computer games carries a highly context-dependent risk of problems. The fates of two people who play 14 hours a day can unfold very differently: one may find the love of their life or an excellent job in an online game, while the other may ultimately lose both.

Dependence on alcohol and drugs is almost unrelated to context. In the case of addiction to psychoactive substances, people of different wealth, education, and character suffer roughly equally.

Taking these circumstances into account, the World Health Organization has included gaming disorder in the section on behavioral disorders. This condition first appeared in the updated International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision. From the perspective of the updated manual, it is a disease that needs to be treated.

However, in the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases, which is currently in effect, this disorder does not exist. This means that the diagnosis of “gaming disorder” cannot be officially made in our country yet.

In addition to gaming addiction, there is a similar behavioral disorder in the section on behavioral disorders – gambling disorder, or addiction to gambling. This condition is considered more dangerous because, unlike gaming disorder, it also threatens bankruptcy.

However, it is unclear from the International Classification of Diseases which group a person who is addicted to a computer game where you can buy in-game items for real money should be classified in. Such games are based on the free-to-play monetization system. Unlike regular gaming addiction, this behavior also threatens not only relationships with others but also one’s wallet.

How many people suffer from gaming disorder?

Giving an exact number is challenging due to the significant variation in the level of gaming addiction across different countries, as well as the use of different diagnostic criteria by specialists, resulting in a wide range of estimates.

A comprehensive study of 160 scientific papers on gaming disorder, which utilized 35 different diagnostic methods, revealed that the prevalence of gaming addiction ranges from 0.2% to 57.5% of the general population.

To obtain a more precise estimate, more high-quality research is necessary. Currently, it remains uncertain who is more susceptible to gaming disorder, such as men or women, teenagers, adults or elderly individuals, and if there is a genetic predisposition to this condition. It is commonly believed that Asian adolescent males are at the highest risk of developing gaming addiction.

How to tell if someone has gaming disorder?

List the criteria of the World Health Organization (WHO) that indicate a person is suffering from gaming disorder.

  1. Lack of control over gaming. A person who is dependent on gaming cannot choose how many times a day they will play, how long they will play for, or when to stop playing. They simply play as much as they can.
  2. Gaming takes priority over other important activities. Even if a person dependent on gaming claims otherwise, in practice, playing is more important to them than studying, building a career, socializing with family or offline friends. Over time, gaming becomes increasingly more important. For example, while a person may have previously preferred gaming to meeting with friends, they may eventually forget to leave their computer on time and arrive late for their own wedding.
  3. Continues gaming despite problems. If a person dependent on gaming has been expelled from school, fired from work, or has lost their spouse, they may start playing even more than before. Gaming is no longer just a hobby, but a way to escape reality.
  4. Has been gaming for a long time. In order to diagnose gaming disorder, the dependency must have lasted for at least 12 months, although this criterion is not strict. Even if the problems have only been going on for six months, the person still requires help.

Specialists from the American Psychiatric Association also add that individuals addicted to gaming become excited when thinking about upcoming games, and become irritable, anxious, and sad when refusing to play. Additionally, they are prone to lying to doctors and family members, downplaying the amount of time they spend playing computer games.

Is it possible to help a person who suffers from gaming addiction?

If a person does not recognize the problem, it is unlikely that you can help them. You can only help those who understand that they have serious problems due to gaming and who would like to at least reduce the number of hours spent playing.

How computer addiction develops

At the age of 9-11, around 2000-2002, I was very interested in computer games, especially Counter-Strike 1.6. It got to the point where I would take money from my parents under the pretext of school expenses, and then lose it all at the gaming club.

It all started when friends suggested going to a gaming club to play. At that time, almost no one had their own computers. Gaming clubs began to appear in almost every neighborhood, and games quickly became popular. This is not surprising: we lived in a not very prosperous area, most parents were away at work, and games seemed like a good way to unwind.

The computer clubs opened at noon, just when schoolchildren finished their lessons. I didn’t skip school, but I spent all my free time there. It turns out that I played for about 6-8 hours a day.

My parents realized that it was becoming a problem and even thought about paying for a psychologist. But in my case, it wasn’t necessary. Music helped me. A free music club opened at school, where anyone interested in playing folk instruments could join. My parents decided to send me there. Many of my classmates were also there, so gradually my interests changed. And then we started touring around Crimea with a musical ensemble, so there was simply no time for games.

The passion for gaming passed as smoothly and gradually as it began – I simply started spending less and less time at the club. I don’t remember exactly how long it took to overcome the addiction – I was very young then. But the refusal was painless, I remember that for sure.

Right now, I don’t have an addiction to games. I can play for a couple of hours three days a week, if I feel like it, or I can give up games for a couple of years. And I still play Counter-Strike 1.6 from time to time.

Today, most specialists believe that treating gaming addiction should be done in the same way as other behavioral disorders related to gambling addiction.

If the person is a minor, the help and support of the family is especially important in helping them find another way to fulfill themselves. In this case, both the dependent individual and their family members may require the assistance of a psychotherapist.

A clinical psychologist or psychiatrist can help understand why a person has such a strong desire to play and suggest ways to deal with life difficulties that may have intensified this desire.

Then, the specialist will teach the person how to control their thoughts and urges related to the game. It is difficult to say how much time is needed to learn self-control. However, as a rule, people who have recently developed the addiction recover faster than those who have been suffering for a long time.

If necessary, such as if the person is very depressed and suffering from losses related to their addiction, the specialist may prescribe medication such as antidepressants.