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How to deal with video games addiction: signs, treatment and prevention

video games addiction

This guide outlines the symptoms and factors of video games addiction, the risks it poses, and strategies for treatment and prevention.

What is video games addiction?

video games addiction

Video games addiction is part of the large family of cyberaddictions, which is considered a form of addiction like any other. In video games addiction, the object of the problem is behavior or activity that is performed through the internet playing of the games, and is seen in both adults and children.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), addiction is defined as “persistent and recurrent behavior related to substance use or behavior, causing clinically significant distress or loss of functioning.” This behavior with video games addiction becomes a psychological need related to obsessive or compulsive need. The lack of access is manifested by psychological symptoms (severe anxiety, distress, frustration, insomnia, bad mood, etc.)

Video games addiction shares several commonalities with behavioral addiction: accentuated depressive feelings, communication difficulties, major consequences on social and school activities. Some experts even go so far as to claim that the stimulations to the brain during pathological video games addicition are similar to those associated with drug use.

To date, video games addiction is not yet officially recognized by the DSM-5 . However, we can draw inspiration from current medical knowledge to better understand and treat it.

Psychological factors

In addition to neuronal predisposition, some psychological characteristics can help to identify the risks of video games addiction, such as:

  • low self esteem
  • self-control difficulties
  • impulsiveness
  • deficits in social skills such as communication and handling unpleasant feelings
  • excessive shyness
  • mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Another important point here is to observe that children are not – by inaction or by the difficulty of imposing parental limits – encouraged to become competitive in everything. Of course, teaching competition is important for children, but there is also a limit to competitive life, whether in the family environment, at school, with friends, wherever.

Social factors

These characteristics above, when added to some social factors, can aggravate the chance of addiction, such as:

  • Pressures at school or work
  • Bullying
  • Social isolation outside the virtual world
  • Absence of healthy and rewarding leisure and hobbies
  • Lack of well-established limits on game use
  • Understanding of games as the only place of social acceptance
  • Feeling of belonging to a team within the games.
  • Game factors themselves

It is worth remembering that the virtual environment becomes very inviting , as it has characteristics such as a space of freedom, where you can fulfill desires that are not always possible in real life and create characters with desired characteristics. In addition, there is the possibility of anonymity, which generates a sense of security and that the person is not directly judged.

For all these reasons, it is very common for young people to try to live in the virtual world what they cannot do in the real world. The internet and games, in this case, work as an escape from reality in search of security, pleasure and the establishment of bonds.

Another point is that the games are highly rewarding. Upon reaching goals, the person receives positive reinforcement, which can help keep them playing.

Symptoms of video games addiction

To give more tangible examples of video games addiction, signals that it might be a problem are when a person:

  • Stops eating to play games or eats all meals in front of the computer/television
  • Avoids studying or finishing work tasks
  • Starts missing school or work so as not to leave the games
  • Does not go out with friends or socialize with family members
  • Sacrifices the sleep schedule to play more and more.

Other common symptoms are non-specific symptoms of stress , such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Change in sleep (or complete “time zone” change)
  • Certain depresssive behaviour, inaction or apathy

In addition, it is common for the person to show withdrawal symptoms when being removed from the game or the possibility of playing, such as:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety.

Finally, the time spent playing is a very important factor, as addicted people begin to develop a feature called tolerance, where they need more time exposed to the game to have the same pleasure as before.

Seeking medical help for video games addiction

How to differentiate a person addicted to games from someone who just likes it a lot?

It is important to point out that only a small portion of people who play this type of games will have the disorder, although we still don’t know for sure what this percentage is, as outlined by the New York Times. The main warning symptom is the person failing to perform basic activities such as eating, drinking water, bathing and sleeping as a result of the game. If the act of gambling is affecting any important area of ​​the individual’s life, such as his physical, mental or social health, he should seek an evaluation.

There are also people who work professionally playing (they are eSports players). In that case, there will be times when she will be more focused and will be more demanded to play, but this is part of her profession, and when this period passes, she returns to focusing on other things.

How can family and friends help someone with video games addiction?

For parents of children and adolescents, it is important to keep the dialogue open and notice changes in attitude that last for a long time . Stop going out with friends and having social activities, as well as having behaviors such as aggression or anxiety when disconnecting from the game. But it is important to realize that there is no other issue of isolation and the game is not an escape.

It is usually the family who takes the initiative to seek help for the person with a video games addiction, whether a child, teenager or adult. In these cases it is very important to intervene and talk. In this conversation it is important to try to listen to the person and try to understand what is going on with them, putting yourself as a support, without judging. And then suggest that they get help so they can get back to doing what they want to, but doesn’t feel able to due to the game.

Diagnosis of video games addiction

The diagnosis of video games addiction is usually made by a specialist in psychiatry, since other possible disorders or suffering faced by the individual must be taken into account, and this professional will carry out a thorough evaluation before defining the diagnosis and best conduct. During the consultation, the patient will talk to the specialist, telling him about his relationship with games, how he feels when he stops playing, among other points. Family members are also interviewed to understand what damage the games are bringing to the individual’s relationships.

Neuropsychological and psychological assessment and verification of social impairment due to abuse or addiction to games are also part of the diagnosis. There are no clinical tests that can diagnose this addiction, just talking to the doctor.

Treatment for video games addiction

Not enough studies have yet been conducted to indicate a specific and effective treatment for gaming disorder. The most common today is an adaptation of treatment for substance use disorder or for impulse disorders. Usually the main focus of treatment is psychotherapy. The use of medication can be adopted, especially in cases of the presence of other psychiatric diseases, which also need to be treated.


There are several forms of psychotherapy, but the most used in these cases is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It helps because the patient usually needs to assess and develop social skills outside the virtual environment, such as communication, problem solving, and feelings management. It is recommended that this therapy be at least six months, and if there is no satisfactory evolution, the person should be referred to a psychiatrist.

Neuropsychological rehabilitation has also shown good results, based on the identification of altered cognitive functions for treatment planning, such as impulse control, planning and decision-making difficulties, and interoceptive awareness altered by the urge to play.

Is video games addiction curable?

There are still not enough studies to confirm the effectiveness of treatments, but as more research is undertaken it will be easier to identify cases and measure the effectiveness of treatments. However, what the experts interviewed say from their experience is that the treatment has faster responses with children and adolescents than adults, but everyone can recover.

Possible complications

Failure to treat game addiction can lead to several types of problems:

  • social complications
  • withdrawal from real life friends
  • preference for virtual life
  • schooling loss
  • job loss
  • family fights
  • relationship losses.
  • psychological complications
  • cognitive impairments
  • impairments in emotion regulation
  • emergence of disorders associated with addiction, such as anxiety disorder, depression, etc.
  • physical complications

Long times spent in front of a screen can lead to physical problems, according to a Harvard Medical School paper on gaming addiction:

  • sedentary lifestyle
  • obesity
  • neck and back pain
  • injuries to hands and arms from repetitive strain
  • malnutrition

Tactics for curing the problem

During the treatment of video games addiction, contact with games should be prohibited, so that there is no relapse. As for the mental aspect, it is important to look for ways to organize the routine with responsibilities, rest, leisure and alternative hobbies, having goals and objectives, promoting other forms of self-care and personal development, such as through meditation.

It is also important to be in person with people who contribute to your life, after all, in addition to being pleasurable, we all need a support network to deal with life’s difficulties.

In general, as a person with an advanced game addiction spent a lot of time playing and taking little care of himself, it is important that the individual takes care of himself as a whole, for example, avoiding spending many hours sitting, without eating or eating poorly. You should have moments of rest, adequate sleep, hydrate, do physical activities.


There is still no consensus among experts whether video games addiction can be prevented. However, it is believed that reducing exposure is very important to reduce risks. This does not mean preventing adultss, children and adolescents from playing , but having more defined rules for when and how much to play, especially in the case of children. For any age, the ideal is that for every 45 minutes of play, 15 minutes of rest are taken. And the ideal is not to stay playing for more than three hours a day.

In the case of children in particular, it is always interesting for parents to be attentive when building a well-balanced activity table for their children, especially during the holiday season, interspersing games with other offline activities , such as sports, moments with friends, and etc. In the case of adults, setting a time to pay attention to other areas of life (such as studying, seeing friends, working, etc.)