“No one is immune from addiction; it afflicts people of all ages, races, classes, and professions.”

—    Patrick J. Kennedy

What is gaming addiction?

Gaming addiction is a chronic addictive brain disorder which left untreated will progressively worsen over time. Gaming addiction is defined and characterised as a repetitive and compulsive use of online video games, potentially leading to destructive consequences in all aspects of life. Compulsive video gamers will play alone and/or with fellow gamers online. Gaming addiction can affect children, teens, and adults. Gaming has been designed by its creators to keep the gamer on the screens for as long as possible. However, some gamers will develop a dependency/addiction, which goes well beyond the normal parameters of casual and social gaming. The easy and instant access to gaming has increased the percentage of those addicted to video gaming. The World Health Organization added gaming disorder to its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), recognising both digital-gaming and video-gaming.

Just this year (2023), Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE said: “Gaming disorders can have a significant impact on children and their family to the extent it can take over and stop them from living their normal daily life. From avoiding school or work, engaging in violence, to family breakdowns, the harms to those suffering can be significant.”

What are the triggers of gaming addiction?

Currently, there’s little data on heritability, or social and environmental factors contributing to gaming addiction. As with gambling and other addictions/addictive behaviours, we know that genetics and environment can determine if a person will misuse and develop a dependency/addiction (although all cases are unique).

In an article Symptoms, Mechanisms, and Treatments of Video Game, authors Shabina Mohammad, Raghad A Jan, and Saba L Alsaedi state: “Evidence has also shown that there is an association between video game addiction and depression, as well as other psychological and social problems.” The authors continue: “Gamers regularly have trouble with social connections and feel forlorn, lacking a sense of belonging. This inclination can be particularly strong among kids and youths who have never felt like they belong to a place, and most likely their only friends are also gamers.”

Many compulsive gamers/addicts report experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. However, these are separate mental health conditions and may or may not worsen gaming addiction or increase the chances of developing an addiction. Again, everyone will manifest signs of mental illness in diverse ways. Addcounsel’s team of world-class health professionals have identified the following triggers for gaming addiction.

Genetics

We know that roughly half of an individual’s susceptibility can be linked to genetic factors. Health professionals are looking at gaming addiction in the same way they would online gambling addiction, with respect to genetic factors. Some gaming addicts have identified that their parents or members of their family have shown symptoms of addictive behaviours which have manifested through gambling, sex, and food, while some gaming addicts have subsequently recognised that they’re a descendant of an alcoholic grandparent. 

Environment

Evidently, access to a computer, consoles, and the internet, are the first steps to potentially misusing gaming, which could lead to a dependency. Other factors such as a lack of social contact, bullying, chronic stress, growing up in a dysfunctional household and being exposed to addictive behaviours in a family system/family home are also contributory factors.

Changes in brain chemistry

The human brain rewires itself continuously with every new experience, memories, and associations with pleasure and pain. As with any other addictive behaviour or addiction, gaming addiction hijacks the brain’s reward centre. Mass dopamine release and over stimulation are associated with gaming dependency/addiction. The sheer intensity of the dopamine hit and the immense cravings which follows a gaming binge can override reasoning. An individual addicted to gaming may know it’s not a good idea to stay up all night when they have an important early appointment the following day but will nevertheless continue playing. By the time they’ve reached this stage, their tolerance will be exceedingly high, produced by prolonging their binges. The brain will rewire itself, accordingly, making it harder to stop (and stay stopped) without treatment.

The National Library of Medicine (USA) attests: “Evidence has shown that addiction can cause changes in some areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the ventral striatum (VS), and the dorsal striatum (DS). In 1999, neuroimaging evidence showed that increases in dopamine (DA) levels in the brain are associated with pleasure and euphoria.”

Limited social contact

Online gaming can bring people together and create a sense of belonging and inclusion. Being able to access and connect with gaming buddies all over the world can be particularly appealing to a young individual struggling with social cohesion. However, this can often lead to gamers completely isolating themselves which will severely impinge on their ability to socialise and build confidence/self-esteem. For some, socialising with others online may even feel like a safer or less stressful option than engaging in person (this may be particularly pertinent for someone on the ASD spectrum or who has undiagnosed PTSD and complex PTSD). However, a lack of personal contact or physical social interaction (even for those who are neurodivergent) can have significant repercussions on mental health.

Chronic stress  

Chronic Stress is frequently closely linked to all addictions/addictive behaviours. A build-up of chronic stress has been consistently identified as a cause of individuals seeking escapism via potentially addictive behaviours such as heavy drinking, overeating, shopping, and sex. Seeking relief from anxiety and other symptoms of chronic stress, through excessive gaming, is a relatively new behaviour which is rapidly on the rise.    

Mental health issues

Although mental health issues such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are clearly not addictive brain disorders, it’s widely recognised that an untreated mental illness has a reasonable chance of exacerbating addiction/addictive behaviours. A person with clinical depression who is reluctant to drink alcohol or use mood-altering drugs, possibly for cultural reasons or fearing loss of control, may attempt to self-medicate by exploring the world of gaming, which could in turn lead to misusing gaming.

How do you know when you’re addicted to gaming?

DSM-5-TR states that internet gaming addiction must cause “significant impairment or distress”. The criteria must include the following symptoms:

  • A preoccupation and compulsion with gaming
  • A withdrawal when gaming stops or is taken away by a parent. For example, experiencing anger, rage, irritability, and other stress-related symptoms.
  • Developing a tolerance to gaming, meaning that to release dopamine, more hours need to be spent gaming (longer binges). Very often a gaming addict will experience numbness instead of pleasure (when playing) once they’ve developed a tolerance. Without support and treatment, they’ll continue gaming even when this results in feelings of numbness and mental fatigue.
  • Unable to reduce playing without professional help. A gaming addict may attempt to quit without help but will likely resume/take up gaming within a very short period.
  • The gaming addict will lose interest in social/leisure activities and isolate themselves.
  • The gaming addict will prioritise gaming over most things, even if this means neglecting self-care/personal hygiene, skipping meals, missing important appointments or family events, and even losing a job to continue gaming.
  • An individual addicted to gaming may resort to deceiving family and friends to conceal the full extent of their gaming addiction.
  • Gaming is often used to self-soothe and relieve uncomfortable feelings such as shame, grief, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, and regret.

Addcounsel’s approach to gaming addiction

Our integrative team is made up of a group of dedicated psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and nutritionists who are all here to help you on your journey to recovery. We combine our team’s expertise to provide a multidisciplinary approach to gaming addiction treatment, fusing therapy, and alternative treatment to set you on the path to long-term recovery.

Our team of experts will assess any factors that might have caused your gaming addiction to develop and will leverage the world’s most extensive menu of treatment services to help you or your loved one to recover and create a robust aftercare programme to support re-integration into your family and lifestyle.

Contact us today to start your recovery

At Addcounsel, we understand the impact of gaming addiction, and how it affects everyday life. Without the appropriate treatment, gaming will compromise interpersonal relations and will eventually have a severe impact on physical and mental health. You don’t have to go through this alone. Our specialists have developed a “whole person” approach to gaming addiction treatment, addressing the symptoms, triggers, and causes of your condition. We’ll help you develop effective, lifelong strategies to manage gaming addiction, ensuring a sustained and long-term recovery.

We offer treatment for gaming addiction at one of our private, luxury rehab facilities in Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and Mayfair, London, which take place in an intimate, one-to-one setting – no groups, no other patients. Your comfort, safety and privacy are our priority. Contact us today to start your recovery.

References:

We are here to help

Related articles from Addcounsel

What is Internet Addiction?
Addcounsel

What is Internet Addiction?

“Internet addiction is a subtle thief that steals our time, attention, and focus.”   — Tony O’Driscoll What is internet addiction?  Internet addiction is characterised by

Read More »
Person with Gaming Addiction Playing Video Games
Addcounsel

Gaming Misuse – Public Health SOS

Gaming has never been more popular than it is now. There are approximately 2.2 billion gamers in the world[1] and it is an industry worth approximately £100 billion pounds. This is all very good news for game developers and the top players who make money out of it, but is there a flip-side to this? Is it possible that there is a dark side to the popularity of gaming, and how could it be damaging people?

Read More »

Contact Us Today

Whether you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, our team would like to answer any questions you may have about treatment. Call our care team today to find out more about our treatment modalities and have all your questions answered