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Gaming addiction has become a worldwide phenomenon, with up to 10% of the general population being affected to some degree. This has prompted The World Health Organisation, WHO, to include ‘gaming disorders’ in the list of recognised mental health conditions 1

According to WHO gaming addiction is a “persistent or recurrent behavior pattern of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” 1

Most young people and even some older people enjoy gaming using computer and internet gaming equipment. To the untrained eye it can be hard to tell when a person has crossed the line between gaming excessively and developing a full blown gaming addiction.

Here at Delamere we feel we can be of of further assistance by sharing our professional knowledge on gaming addiction: the symptoms, causes and the treatment.

We hope that this page will help you or a loved one to identify if you have a problem that requires professional intervention and provide you with the information you need regarding treatment options for this often overlooked, yet very common addiction.


What is gaming addiction?

Gaming addiction is a chronic and progressive disorder, characterised by compulsion, relapse and continuation despite negative consequences. The condition develops through excessive exposure to gaming.

A person that suffers from gaming addiction will display a distinct lack of control when it comes to their gaming and associated behaviours.

Addiction causes a person to suffer negative consequences to many aspects of their life, gaming addiction is no different. Despite this, a gaming addict will not be able to stop gaming and continue to compulsively engage even when risking their health, social well-being, personal relationships, education or work.

Due to demand from psychiatrists, the DSM-5 (a manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders) have added ‘Internet gaming disorder’ to the subsection ‘Conditions that require further study’ in 2018 . They have also added a diagnostic criteria for the gaming disorder 2

As yet, due to gaming addiction being a relatively new condition, more scientific and neurological research is required before the DSM-5 can add gaming addiction as a stand alone condition or behavioural addiction in its own right.

Studies on compulsive gaming are being conducted all the time; our hope is that it will soon be officially recognised as a type of addiction. It certainly holds the same core characteristics as many other behavioural addictions.

China and South Korea, on the other hand, are already well ahead of the rest of the world in diagnosing and treating gaming addiction; specifically in adolescents (the most affected age group). They have established inpatient treatment centres dedicated to helping teenagers overcome internet gaming addiction 3

Gaming addiction, internet gaming addiction, gaming disorder and compulsive gaming all have one thing in common – they cause distress to the sufferer and to those that care for them.

Despite suffering negative consequences as a direct result of gaming, a gaming addict will be unable to stop, moderate or control their time spent on gaming. They are compelled to continue gaming even when they want to stop.


The causes of gaming addiction

There can be many causes that underlie the development of a gaming addiction, each is individual to the person.

The exact causes of your or a loved ones addiction to gaming can usually only be pinpointed by a professional, trained in treating addiction.

Internet and video/computer games are designed to trigger the brain’s pleasure/reward system. Overcoming challenges and winning rewards during gaming produces an influx of dopamine to the brain.

Dopamine has been linked to addiction for some years. It is an organic feel good chemical that rewards us for engaging in healthy activities. However, alcohol, drugs and certain activities that are not healthy, also trigger the artificial release of dopamine AND in abundance. In doing so it reduces the amount of serotonin available in the brain 4

The feeling of excitement, achievement and euphoria, produced by the brain’s reward chemicals is only very temporary. This is what motivates a person addicted to gaming to overcome the next challenge/level in the game, regardless of the internal and external consequences.

As a person’s addiction progresses, the brain becomes less able to respond to healthy activities that used to trigger chemical rewards. This is due to biological changes in the brains pathways and pleasure/reward system. Eventually, they find no pleasure in other activities they used to enjoy. Their brain prioritises the source of instant gratification (gaming) above all else and natural serotonin levels decrease more and more 5

What causes a person to develop an addiction in the first place can often be complex and due to one or more recognised contributing factors.

Factors that can cause addiction to gaming include:

  • Excessive exposure during childhood and teenage years – whilst the brain is impressionable and still forming it is very vulnerable to biochemical change from external influences (rewarding behaviours) and chemically induced change (alcohol & drugs)
  • Environmental factors – stress, poverty, deprivation of love, malnutrition, lack of support & neglect at school or home and a dysfunctional family life, are all common environmental factors that can all lead a person to want to escape their reality by entering a virtual world
  • Trauma & abuse – trauma, bullying and all forms of abuse can cause lasting, damaging change to the brain, thus making it more susceptible to further change. The brain also becomes heightened in its response to stimuli.
    Genetics – some people are more genetically predisposed to developing addiction. This is especially true of those that have mental health illness or addiction that runs in the family
  • Lifestyle – leading a stressful lifestyle or having a lack of healthy coping mechanisms to deal with emotions can lead a person to opt out of life by escaping into a world where anything is possible. They are accepted, not questioned, not judged and are unlimited in their abilities (unlike in real life)
  • Social factors – Peer pressure, gang culture, lack of friendship and limited contact with the external world can also contribute to the development of addiction
  • Mental health illness – Untreated ADHD, depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses are all recognised contributing factors of addiction 6

Whatever the causes are that contribute to a person developing an addiction to gaming in the first place will need to be comprehensively treated and addressed.

The person will also need to learn and implement healthier coping mechanisms and strategies in order to prevent relapse.

Depending on the severity of the gaming addiction, often professional treatment is required to correctly address and treat the causes.


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The signs and symptoms of gaming addiction

According to the DSM-5 subsection that includes internet gaming disorder, it notes that the person’s gaming must cause ‘significant impairment or distress’ in several aspects of the person’s life in order to qualify as a mental health disorder.

The proposed disorder of gaming addiction in the DSM-5 proposes several symptoms of gaming disorder that are also characteristic behaviors associated with addiction, substance based or not 7

Symptoms of gaming addiction include:

  • Preoccupation with gaming – Constantly and obsessively thinking about gaming
  • Withdrawal symptoms – When gaming is taken away, or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
  • Tolerance – The need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
  • Inability to reduce or stop – Unsuccessful attempts to quit or moderate gaming
  • Giving up other activities – Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming
  • Continuing to game despite problems – Problems and negative consequences caused by gaming itself
  • Deceiving family members or others – Lying or trying to hide the truth about the amount of time spent on gaming
  • The use of gaming to relieve negative moods – Using gaming to divert from negative feelings such as guilt, sadness or hopelessness
  • Risk – A person many be about to lose a job, their education or a relationship due to their gaming but still be unable to moderate or stop 7

Identifying with the signs and symptoms of gaming addiction means that you suffer from a progressive brain disorder, for which there is no cure.

Very few (if any) are able to recover from addiction of their own volition. This is due to their brain being hardwired to compulsively seek and engage.

Whilst addiction is not curable, it IS treatable and responds well to the correct professional treatment, which should be sought without delay.


Is gaming addiction dangerous? – The effects of gaming addiction

One study, conducted on students, used a General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28) scale and a questionnaire on addiction to computer games, to help identify the negative effects of compulsive gaming/gaming addiction.

The results of this particular study correlate with other similar studies on gaming addiction conducted around the world 8

Gaming addiction has been found to have the following negative effects:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Sleeplessness
  • Significant impaired and decreased social function
  • Depression
  • Mistaking pleasure for happiness – emotional problems
  • Unmanageability in other areas of their life
  • Increased physical health problems
  • Decreased performance cognitively/occupationally/educationally
  • Lethargy
  • Obesity
  • Detrimental effects to mental health and general wellbeing 4,9,10

The more severe the gaming addiction, the more pronounced these effects become.


Treatment options for gaming addiction

As gaming addiction has become more common, especially with the younger generation, some helplines have been set up to help those that suffer and assist their families.

There is now a very much recognised need for gaming addiction treatment. However, most treatment options that are available freely are not bespoke and offer a one size fits all approach to treatment.

Not all are not professionally run and can only offer tips on managing the condition, not in treating the root causes.

Treatment options available freely in the UK for gaming addiction are delivered within the community and therefore not intensive.

For an individual suffering from a gaming addiction, as opposed to a problem with gaming, these services may not suffice in terms of achieving successful long term recovery.

Nevertheless, for a child or teenager that is too young to legally attend inpatient rehab for gaming addiction, these services can be helpful in providing early intervention and in educating the family.

Telephone helplines for gaming addiction include:

Family Lives – Tips for children addicted to gaming and support for families

Helpline: 0808 800 2222
Website – www.familylives.org.uk

NHS – National Centre for Gaming Disorders – For children and young adults aged 13 -25 in England and Wales and their families

Helpline: 020 7381 7722
Email: Ncba.cnwl@nhs.net
Website

Professional community based treatment can also be sought from your local CAMHS service (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service)

Treatments for gaming addiction should involve cognitive based and behavioural therapies, to help facilitate a complete change in the person’s perception, cognitive processing, coping strategies and behaviour. Relapse prevention techniques and personal development practices are also a crucial part of the addiction rehabilitation process.

Just as a person afflicted with addiction often suffers physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and occupationally/educationally, these are the very same areas that require bespoke treatment.

Sadly for many that suffer from gaming addiction, a once a week key-work or counselling session does not suffice. Something more substantial, comprehensive and intensive is usually required to arrest the compulsion to game and facilitate the change required to maintain ongoing recovery 10


Rehab for gaming addiction

We at Delamere specialise in the successful treatment of all manner of addictions, whether they involve a substance or not.

Our purpose built addiction treatment and behavioural wellness facility is staffed by professionals who comprehensively and intensively treat any person suffering from any addiction. We are able to facilitate the much needed transformation to enable a person suffering from gaming addiction to lead a full and lasting recovery.

Very few rehabs in the UK are equipped to provide a comprehensive and individualised treatment programme to a person suffering fro gaming addiction. However, here at Delamere we are more than well equipped with our purpose built behavioural wellness centre and our team of distinguished mental health practitioners, specialising in the treatment of addiction.

Compulsive gaming is a mere symptom of something far more deep and complex within the individual. These causes and conditions must be unearthed and healed in order that the person can move forwards with their life. Healing the past opens a person’s mind to learning essential life skills, relapse prevention techniques and coping strategies that will enable them to live a full and purposeful life.

Within the safety of our first class addiction treatment facilities, our guests undergo intensive healing without the pressure or temptations associated with the outside world. Our guests are monitored and cared for to the highest of standards 24/7, each receiving exactly what they need in terms of effective addiction treatment.

Furthermore, the family is also very much part of the journey. We do all we can to ensure that the family are educated in supporting their loved one and that the right support systems and networks are available for continued support once inpatient treatment has been completed.

We also hold weekly aftercare sessions lead by one or more of our professional colleagues here at Delamere on a weekly basis.

If you or a loved one want to know more about our inpatient gaming addiction treatment programmes please call and speak to a member of our team today.


References

  1. World Health Organization [WHO] (2018). Available here (accessed December, 2018). [Google Scholar] [Ref list]
  2. Internet Gaming Disorder in the DSM-5
  3. PBS Newshour, News desk Treating China’s Internet Addicts. 2014 Available here. Accessed April 4, 2017. [Ref list]
  4. Pollard I. (2003). From Happiness to Depression”. Today’s Life Science. Available here (accessed August, 2019). [Google Scholar] [Ref list]
  5. Sherry J, Lucas K. Proceedings the annual meeting of the International Communication Association; Video Game Uses and Gratifications as Predictors of Use and Game Preference; San Diego, California: 2003. pp. 12pp. 41–5. [Google Scholar] [Ref list]
  6. Familial, Social, and Individual Factors Contributing to Risk for Adolescent Substance Use
  7. Internet gaming – Overview by the American Psychiatric Association
  8. Ahmadi S. Social effects of computer games on male students in third year of guidance school in Isfahan city. Quarterly of public culture [Persian] 1998;1&17:87. [Google Scholar] [Ref list]
  9. Effects of addiction to computer games on physical and mental health of female and male students of Guidance school in City of Isfahan
  10. Drugs, brains, and behaviour: The science of addiction. (2018, July)

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