Video Gaming Addiction – A Mental Disorder?

In these times of ever-increasing exposure to video game technology, we rarely stop to ask ourselves if we are becoming mentally addicted to that technology and this can lead to unforeseen consequences. There is now an increasing number of professionals that have dedicated themselves to researching mental disorders and video games.

Although Video Gaming Addiction is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, it does stipulate that a person can become addicted to a behavior or skill-set and researchers are working to investigate this further. The World Health Organization (WHO) however has defined video gaming addiction in their International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Many of us wonder if this is a valid suggestion on the part of researchers. In this article, we’ll dive into the psychiatric and sociological components of mental disorders in general, as well as how video games have shaped our understanding of addiction.

Portrait of emotional gamer in headphones playing computer games at home at table at night, yelling into microphone and looking intently at computer screen. Expressive gamer broadcasts a game stream

Can You Become Addicted To Video Gaming?

The American Psychiatric Association specifies that, in addition to substances that alter brain chemistry and result in disorders, a person can also become addicted to behaviors.

The DSM-5 classifies addiction as engaging in a behavior or using a substance enough that your daily life is consistently impaired.

There are several symptoms a person with either substance use disorder or behavioral use disorder may exhibit. Below are a few examples of symptoms of video game addiction.

  • A person may experience a lack of control over the impulse to engage in the behavior, or may not have the will to do anything else.
  • Someone who is addicted to video games may consistently fail to perform daily tasks or even engage in basic hygiene.
  • Persistent use despite the awareness of inherent consequences, such as the danger of losing employment or friendships.

How Often You Play Video Games

Frequency matters if the habit interferes with everyday life. If a person will forego almost all other social and personal responsibilities in favor of playing video games, to the point that his or her physical health and stability are at risk or compromised, he or she may have an internet gaming disorder.

If you play a favorite game every day for an hour or two, but can still maintain a balance among the rest of your social responsibilities, as well as the integrity of your personal health, then you are most likely not exhibiting symptoms of video gaming addiction.

These are not the only criteria, to be sure, but they are important to keep in mind.

How Video Gaming Addiction Starts

Typically, particularly because video games are becoming increasingly accessible to younger and younger demographics, the signs of video gaming addiction start in early adolescence. If video games morph into more than just a social pastime, absorbing more and more of a person’s time, then we might find a reason to worry.

The “gateway” is often speculated to be smartphones and tablets, because they provide early, easy screen exposure that often tends to be introduced as a necessity in a family unit.

Even though these devices can be regulated in one way or another, either through content filters or time restrictions, research indicates that dependency can be triggered by multiple factors, which we will look at below.

Teen Gaming on phone and computer


The types and styles of video games that an individual, especially an adolescent, is exposed to can influence the likelihood that he or she will develop an addiction to that particular stimulus in the future.

Video games in general are built around the risk/reward center of the brain, but some types of games are more deliberately designed to trigger more pronounced responses, which in turn provoke stronger reactions from the user.


Concerning children or adolescents, simplistic games that have more clearly defined objectives, rather than “free-roam” models, tend to be structured in such a way as to condition the user to expect a certain reward or pay-off for the work that was exerted for the achievement.

This model is also structured in such a way as to always be offering some kind of reward for almost any action, which tends to keep a user engaged for longer periods of time.

Escalating Challenge

Games that have a moderately sloped incline of challenges keep users from getting bored but are also not too difficult too early, which would dissuade a user from continuing to play or from returning after a cool-down period.

This is a common programming tactic but it can also have negative consequences on a user’s desire to disengage from the game to pursue other, real-world activities that stimulate the brain in similar ways.

Gaming addiction


Video games offer gamers an escape from reality in a fun and generally low-risk way, but when relaxation and recreation turn into escapism, the stage is set for dependence.

Escapism is defined as the urge to retreat into an activity or state of being that takes the place of what may be perceived as a stressor, such as going to work or interacting with others.

Understand How Much is Too Much

According to research, persons between 15 and 24 years old spend approximately forty minutes a day on video games. This does not include all types of screen time, but it does take into account a rather broad definition of “video game” that can give us a good estimate. Some screen time is good, even healthy for us.

Below we have a few symptoms that correlate to the amount of time spent on video games.

Time15-40 Minutes45-75 Minutes80-120 Minutes
AdolescentsAverageAbove AverageHigh
AdultsBelow AverageAverageAbove Average

For adults, the risk of losing the ability to self-manage is lower but never non-existent. Children may display more irritability than inability, meaning a child’s day-to-day activity is already regulated by external factors like parental supervision, whereas an adult may display a different set of symptoms as a result of being self-dependent.

A Way Back

As with most substance-based addictive disorders, there are treatments for internet gaming addiction, and although the field of research is a burgeoning one, there are several theories and modalities currently being employed by health professionals.

You may recognize some of these treatments as being similar to those we may use with substance use disorders. It should be noted, that because it is not known to what extent video game addiction changes the structure of the brain, it is difficult to assess what steps to take.

  •     Reduce video game use in stages, not all at once.
  •     Identify what may be missing from the individual’s life that they may be using video games to replace.
  •     Encourage new activities that involve less screen time and more social interaction.
  •     Learn to cope with the changes in mood that may occur when video game time is reduced or phased out.
  •     Identify what led to the behavior of addiction in the first place.
gaming into the morning

What Can We Do To Stop A Gaming Disorder?

Establishing meaningful, constructive, satisfying personal dynamics with our children or close friends will always be one of the most solid defenses we have against the onset of any kind of addiction, but we should always remember that neurology and genetics may predispose someone to addiction regardless.

Noticing the early warning signs of video game addiction and seeking professional help as soon as possible is the best course of action, but it’s not always necessary to involve the medical community. Sometimes it’s enough to sincerely engage with someone we care about on a face-to-face basis, hopefully giving them the fulfillment they crave.

Gaming addiction is a serious mental illness that can affect the physical and mental health of children and adolescents. It can interfere with their academic performance, social relationships, and emotional well-being. To prevent a gaming addiction from happening, parents should use parental control tools to limit the amount of gaming that their children can access. Apart from preventing and managing gaming addictions, parental control tools can also be used for internet addiction. Parental control tools can help parents set time limits, block inappropriate content, monitor online activity, and restrict purchases. By using these tools, parents can create a healthy and balanced gaming environment for their children and prevent them from developing an unhealthy video gaming addiction.


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