How to Deal with Video Game Addiction

How to Deal with Video Game Addiction

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Video Game Addiction in Children

Video games did not always exist. In the 1950s, video games hit the scenes and became wildly popular in video arcades on large machines in the 1970s. It wasn’t until 1972 that they became more widely available with personal gaming consoles. As technology continues to advance, online games are becoming more and more popular.


The video game industry is a successful one that is continuing to grow rapidly, reporting revenues of $131 billion. Most of the revenues come from adolescent and young adult players.

What is video game addiction?

There are two types of video game addiction. The first is the single player games, or role-playing games (RPG) that involve a single large task or mission to complete, such as saving a princess or defeating a bad guy. The addiction to this type of gaming is usually beating a high score or completing a mission.1 The second type of gaming addiction is related to online multiplayer games, or MMO.


These games can be played online, either on a gaming console or computer, and involve a community of other people playing the same game together in real time. The addictive factor for this type may be the sense of community and accomplishment when the team reaches smaller goals together and can go on almost indefinitely.


Video games are designed to be incredibly addictive to keep the players coming back to reach particular goals, beat the game, or communicate with fellow online gamers. They are designed to be simple enough to play, but difficult enough to not complete the game or win quickly, which creates challenges for the player. This can be dangerous for younger players as they get drawn into a highly addictive online world.


Video game addiction is often seen as similar to a gambling addiction. However, this is not a widely accepted comparison because video games rely on strategy, whereas gambling involves money and is largely based on luck.

How does video game addiction manifest?

Video game addiction can manifest in different ways for different people, based on their preference of game, gaming system, or other underlying or co-occurring mental health disorders.  It is often seen as playing video games, either on a console or online, in excess and generally ignoring other facets of life.2


Gaming can be a positive experience for most people as there is a large community that you can be a part of if you are a gamer, especially if you are a widely accepted individual. This can be appealing for children and adolescents who are seeking validation or friendship.


In children, video game addiction can manifest as playing games in secret or lying about the amount of time spent gaming. Children can also become irritable or angry while not gaming and may not be as engaged as they typically are in normal life.

How to identify a child with Video Game addiction?

Casually playing video games does not mean you child is addicted to gaming. However, video gaming can quickly escalate to a lifestyle and turn into an addiction. As a parent of a child who may have a gaming addiction.


There are a few things to look for to identify the gaming addiction:


  • Neglect – Neglect can manifest in many forms including bad grades in school, ignoring chores or other responsibilities, forgetting or neglecting friendships, or a lack of interest in old hobbies and no interest in new hobbies.
  • Too much time spent gaming – Children and adolescents may have a difficult time setting limits on gameplay.
  • Irritability – When asked or forced to stop gaming, children could get angry or upset and be irritable, even if only for a short time.
  • Withdrawal – loss of appetite, lack of sleep, agitation can all occur if the game is taken away, even briefly.
  • Escapism – Using video games as a way to escape reality, stressful situations, or unpleasantness at home or at school.


Aside from the side effects, there are also other risks of excessive gaming or video game addiction. Fatigue, poor attention to personal hygiene, headaches or migraines, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and seizures or repetitive stress injuries are some of the more severe that can affect both children and adults.


There are also a number of other side effects to be concerned about if your child is a video game addict:


  • Sedentary lifestyle – Excessive gaming can involve sitting in one chair or position for hours on end. This can lead to unhealthy weight gain and bad posture.
  • Problems with attention – Video games can be fast paced and involve rapid movements that can promote a lack of concentration in gamers. Due to this drop in long-term concentration and attention span, children are less likely to be interested in reading or completing other tasks that require longer amounts of time and attention.
  • Avoidance – Video gaming can be used as an escape, and then can hinder a child’s ability to grow developmentally. Pretend play and fantasy role-playing video games can be helpful in allowing a child to learn about themselves and apply what they have learned to their every day life, if used responsibly. However, more often an avoidance strategy is adopted.
  • Lack of social engagement – Some games, mostly the online multiplayer games, offer a community of friends to play with and talk to online only. That can be problematic for children as they are still developing social skills and use socialization techniques to relate to their peers.
  • Increased aggression – Studies have shown that children who play games that revolve around fighting or combat have increased aggressive, passive aggressive or violent behaviors. This does not apply to every child, but it is important for parents to be aware of the content in the video game their child is playing.


If you notice your child is exhibiting any of the above side effects or could be at risk for some of the more severe side effects, such as game transfer phenomena you may consider seeking treatment for video game addiction or at the very least doing a digital detox.

Treatment for video gaming addiction

Should you seek treatment for video game addiction for your child?


Video game addiction may not necessarily be dangerous on its own, and can be seen as frivolous or not serious. It can become co-occurring with other mental health issues. If that is the case, it may be time to consider finding treatment for both the game addiction, and the concurrent mental health issue. Video game addiction is currently not classified as a mental health disorder, but it is widely considered an impulse control disorder and there are facilities and professionals with experience in treatment. For children, these co-occurring mental health issues are just as important.


Some co-occurring mental health issues associated with video game addiction are:


  • Anxiety – Gaming and anxiety can go hand in hand, especially for children if they use video games to escape difficulty or stressors in their life. Gaming can also cause social anxiety as children spend more time communicating with peers online and less time fostering friendships in person.
  • Depression – There have been studies that have shown a direct correlation between gaming and depression. Much like anxiety, gaming can be used to cope with already existing depression or to isolate from life stressors.
  • ADHD – ADHD and video game addiction are frequently linked. Children and adults with ADHD tend to have unrestricted gameplay and play excessively. This can be caused by poor time management and hyper-focus. Video games offer a reward for a short attention span.


Video games have both a positive and negative influence on children. Some games are educational in nature or promote creative thinking or problem solving. Other games can be violent in nature and promote increased aggression.  Because of the interaction in video games, the brain is in a constant state of “fight or flight.” This is dangerous in children, as their brains are still developing and a constant state of hyperarousal can trigger stress. Treatment for video game addiction can offer support.


Going “cold turkey” with video games or technology may not be a completely feasible option, as technology has become increasingly dominant in society and we have become more dependent on it. Rather than taking gaming away completely, some parents may consider enforcing stricter time limits and teaching their children to better manage their time with video games and technology. If you decide to seek treatment for your child, make sure you speak with a professional and have your child evaluated to determine how serious their addiction is or could be. Therapeutic Boarding School is also an option for some families.


There are other things you can do to help your child with their video game addiction, such as setting time limits or time without games or technology. Modeling desired behavior with video games or computers can also help foster better behavior involving gaming.


Maintaining life balance is important, especially for children and video game addiction can be dangerous and hinder their life balance. Video games have been around for more than a half century and continue to advance with technology. Casually playing video games does not equate to video game addiction, but it can easily turn into gaming addiction for children if not monitored properly.

Sometimes a Digital Detox period is helpful in controlling video game additions and in other cases a more comprehensive 12 step program for gaming addiction is required.

Our friend Patrik Wincent discusses Video Game Addiction in Children and Young Adults

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References: Video Game Addiction

  1. Worlds best Rehab 2021 []
  2. Andreassen C. S., Billieux J., Griffiths M. D., Kuss D. J., Demetrovics Z., Mazzoni E., et al. (2016). The relationship between addictive use of social media and video games and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: a large-scale cross-sectional study. Psychol. Behav. 30 252–262. 10.1037/adb0000160 []
  3. Billieux J., Chanal J., Khazaal Y., Rochat L., Gay P., Zullino D., et al. (2011). Psychological predictors of problematic involvement in massively multiplayer online role-playing games: illustration in a sample of male cybercafé players. Psychopathology 44 165–171. 10.1159/000322525 []

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