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8 Signs of Video Game Addiction 

Article by Andrew Walsh Clinical Social Work/Therapist, MSW, LSW, MRHM

Photography by Provided

Recently I was talking to a mother about her child and video game addiction. As I discussed the rate of video game addiction in the U.S. and some of the neurological changes that occur from it, she grew concerned. She asked me what were some signs of video game addiction so that she could be on the lookout for it in her two teenage children. I gave her some ideas, and our conversation came to an end. However, as I was driving home, I realized that more parents might want to know some signs to look for. Let's take a look at behavioral, relationship, psychological, and psychical signs that may indicate a loved one is struggling with video game addiction. 

Behavioral Signs of Video Game Addiction

1. Loss of Interest in other activities

As with other addictive behaviors video game addiction can result in a decrease in participation in other interests or hobbies which the individual used to enjoy. For example, a teen who used to enjoy playing sports who elects to not continue play sports in order to continue to play video games.

2. Decreased academic performance or work performance

Initially I wrote this to just include academic performance. However, I realized that only including academic might give people the impression that video game addiction only occurs among youth. Research has shown that is far from the case. We have seen significant impact on both academic performance of those in school as well as work performance for those who work.

Relationship Signs of Video Game Addiction

1. Conflict with others or aggression

One of the effects of video game addiction is neurological changes which increase the likelihood of the gamer struggling with their temper, emotional regulation, or aggression. For some parents of teens they have seen first hand what happens when they try to take a game away from their child. For those who are unfamiliar with this, you can go on YouTube and find many videos of extreme meltdowns as parents try to regulate their child’s game play. Unfortunately, in recent months we have also seen games who react violently when someone tries to take away their game. In the past year a 11-year old shot his father for taking away his video game systems.  

2. Isolation

Similar to other addictions, someone struggling with video game addiction may start to isolate. They might start to spend less time with friends and family. The isolation may stem from video game addiction or it could be from an underlying condition such as depression. Regardless if you notice a loved one is starting to isolate please take it seriously as it may be an indication that help is needed. 

Psychological Signs of Video Game Addiction

1. Withdrawal symptoms

 Withdrawal symptoms are more difficult to identify for video game addiction compared to alcohol or drug addiction. For the later withdrawal symptoms are readily apparent as the individual is physically ill. For video game addiction the withdrawal symptoms are much more nuanced. Symptoms are much more psychological in nature and can include restlessness, irritability, and anger. 

2. Mood shifts

Parents are all too familiar with the dramatic mood shifts teenage children experience. Many parents I have worked with who have teenage children report that the mood of their children can change numerous times throughout the day. At one moment their home can be calm and peaceful and in the next it is like a war zone. What we look for here is what happens when the individual actually plays the video game. Does their mood change from being irritable to being calm? If so that might be an indication that they are using the game to regulate their emotions which is a cause for concern. 

Physical Signs of Video Game Addiction

1. Sleep-related issues

One of the common contributors to decreased academic or work performance is a decrease in the quality and duration of sleep for video game players. A teenage struggling with video game addiction may stay up late playing and then have to wake up a few hours later to go to school. Not only is the duration of their sleep insufficient but the quality is also poor due to significant exposure to blue-light while playing. This makes getting into the REM cycle (the part of sleep that makes us feel refreshed) very difficult. The same holds true for adults who work. 

2. Poor hygiene

We typically only see this in extreme cases where an individual has totally lacked self-care in pursuit of playing video games. Showering and brushing teeth start to become optional to individuals who are severely addiction to video games.