Is Video Game Addiction the Same as Drug Addiction?
Can video games be as addicting as drugs or alcohol?
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Video game addiction is still widely misunderstood. Some who have personal experience with drug addiction scoff at people who can’t seem to put the controller down. After spending months or years stuck in a cycle of substance abuse, it may feel like a massive stretch to equate their once hopeless reality to the someone who cannot log out of an online game.
But for those struggling with video game addiction, the problem is undeniably real.
Unpacking video game addiction raises a number of different questions, from the definition of addiction to which activities or behaviors qualify as an addiction. Continue reading to learn more about people who can’t stop playing games and how psychologists aim to tackle the problem.
Video Game Addiction: The Development of Understanding
Video games have come leaps and bounds since the release of Pong in 1958, often credited as the world’s first video game. Today there are tens of thousands of games to choose from on quite a few different platforms. 64 percent of the population in the United States consider themselves gamers, according to a 2017 Neilsen survey.
Whether you play on the computer, a console like PlayStation or Xbox, or even on your mobile phone, millions of people enjoy passing time playing video games. They fill empty space while waiting in lobbies, riding on the bus, or relaxing in the evening.
There is a portion of the population who can’t just play a game or two then shut it down, though. These individuals play in marathon sessions for hours upon hours at a time. It goes beyond the childhood cry of, “Just one more game!” They neglect their responsibilities in order to play and don’t seem to know when to stop.
This raises the question: does video game addiction truly count as an addiction?
What is Addiction?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” It describes “dysfunction” in the brain that leads to “biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations.” They break it down into five main symptoms:
- Inability to stay away from the object of the addiction.
- Impairment in their ability to control their behaviors.
- “Craving” the thing they are addicted to.
- Difficulties realizing the consequences of their behaviors.
- Inhibited emotional responses.
Drug addiction is relatively easy to define. Someone with a substance use disorder continues using drugs compulsively, regardless of nearly all consequences. They may destroy their personal relationships with friends or family, lose their job, or get in trouble with the law but still continue using. Do people with video game addiction go this far?
Addiction: The DSM Definition
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, outlines 11 criteria that qualify someone for a substance use disorder diagnosis. The number of symptoms someone has determines how severe their use is. People with 2 to 3 symptoms qualify as mild, 4 or 5 are considered moderate, while those with 6 or more have a severe substance use disorder. They include:
- Taking more of the substance or using it for longer than intended.
- Wanting to slow down or stop using but not being able to.
- Spending a large amount of time either buying, using, or sick as a result of use.
- Craving the substance when not using it.
- Experiencing difficulties meeting responsibilities at school, work, or home.
- Continuing use regardless of problems with personal relationships.
- Stopping spending time with friends or doing things you once enjoyed.
- Continuing use despite it landing you in dangerous situations.
- Not quitting even when physical or mental health suffers as a result of use.
- Developing a tolerance, or needing more of the substance to get the desired result.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using the substance.
While this refers to someone with drug addiction, some of the signs seem like they could apply to how people use video games.
Exploring Video Game Addiction
So does video games count as an addiction? The answer varies depending on who you ask. The DSM-5 hasn’t qualified compulsive video game use as an addiction yet, similar to gambling addiction. However, it does include “internet gaming disorder” in the section of conditions they plan to consider after further research. Some of the potential qualifications mirror the criteria for substance use disorder listed above.
Still, researchers like Douglas Gentile consider video game addiction a very real problem that people face today. He points out that it’s difficult to pin a true estimate on the number of people addicted to video games. Since there is no single accepted definition or qualification for video game addiction, estimates range between 4 and 10 percent of players.
Researchers in support of qualifying compulsive gaming as an addiction point out the similarities between video games and drugs. Both play on the brain’s pleasure reward system. Drugs provide a very direct impact on brain chemistry. Video games are more subtle. They offer rewards on a spaced-out basis, leaving players hoping the next one comes after “just one more game.”
Does Compulsive Gaming Count as Addiction?
The negative impact on a person’s life is one of the biggest characteristics of addiction. If the games damage their relationships, education, occupation, or livelihood, it’s passed the point of recreational play. You can read hundreds of articles online detailing the shift from casual into compulsive play in the lives of various gamers.
Whether you consider video game addiction a true addiction or not, people who play compulsively still deserve the same access to help.. Addiction soon feels like the only normal way of life; living without the focus of your addiction seems impossible. It doesn’t matter what that focus is. There is still a difficulty in navigating life without it.
Thankfully, addiction treatment centers like Hawaii Island Recovery help hundreds of people rediscover the life they left behind for their addiction. Learning to live free from the chains of obsessive behavior, whether playing video games or using drugs, gives people their lives back. Find out more about the programs available at Hawaii Island Recovery by calling us at 877-721-3556 today.