Internet use has become a mainstay in most developed countries. Experts agree that this growing presence of technology has created a new form of dependence. Technology addiction is a growing trend (O’Reilly, 1996). More common among teens, technology or gaming addiction occurs when a person has a compulsive need to use devices like smart phones, computers, or video games. Most often, this addiction involves an obsession with interactive online video games, but other compulsions may be present as well.
Gaming addiction is not recognized as a diagnosable condition, but studies have shown that the brain patterns of a technology addict are no different from those of a drug addict (Lin et al., 2012). Like other addictions, the user comes to associate gaming with good feelings and a sense of escape. They seek this experience out again and again and are unable to stop without help.
Symptoms of a technology or gaming addiction may be difficult to recognize. An addict will usually try to hide his or her addiction. He or she may play when no one is around, or stay home from work or school simply to play a game. They will also play it off as if it is normal or a healthy activity.
While daily technology use is often the norm for many people, a gaming addict tends to show highly compulsive behavior. An addiction may be present if some or all of the following behaviors persist:
- compulsive need to be online or have access to devices
- forgetting to eat or sleep while gaming
- loss of interest in activities other than gaming
- spending hours in front of the computer without taking breaks
- inability to leave a game in order to attend to daily tasks
- poor performance at school or work due to gaming
- increased communication and friendships with other gamers
- irritability, depression, or lethargy when not engaged in gaming or technology
- wearing an adult diaper while gaming to prevent interrupted play
Gaming addicts will choose their game over responsibilities and people in their life. They will make excuses to stay home and play and may miss important events to do so. Their social life will no longer take place outside of the home, and they may “meet” friends online to interact rather than seeing friends in person. The game becomes their reality and consumes their life. The relationships built online through gaming will often become more important than those with family and close friends, leading the addict to isolate themselves even more.
A technology or gaming addiction may be more serious than it appears. No addiction is healthy. Experts agree that many video games simulate an experience that resonates as “real” life for these types of addicts. Addicts may see gaming as a social activity and withdraw from other things that used to bring joy. This isolation can lead to depression and health problems due to inactivity. It’s important to take a gaming addiction seriously and seek help if necessary.
Like other addicts, technology addicts won’t typically get help until they are ready. They may go through a period of denial and justify their gaming by saying it doesn’t hurt anyone and isn’t illegal. Often, something serious must happen to convince them that they need help. This could be the loss of a job or a relationship. This is sometimes known as “hitting bottom.”
Gaming addicts may benefit from individual counseling with an addiction specialist. A counselor like this can assist the addict in coping with the stress of recovery and developing healthier habits. In some cases, it might also be necessary for the addict to attend an inpatient addiction rehabilitation treatment program. Inpatient treatment requires an addict to stay at a facility for an extended period while attending group and one-on-one therapy. An evaluation with a mental health expert may also be helpful, as the addict may also have depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In these cases, a doctor may prescribe medication.
Many addicts can also find support through 12-step groups like Online Gamers Anonymous (OGA). These programs are free and provide the addict with a network of other recovering gaming/technology addicts. Unlike inpatient treatment, for instance, groups like this support the addict indefinitely. From the onset of recovery to years down the road, these groups provide support on a long-term basis.
As technology addiction typically doesn’t involve physical risks. It may be easier to manage than a drug or alcohol addiction. However, the psychological problems that may develop can be very negative.
Gamers often isolate themselves and push friends and family away. Because they become out of touch with reality, they often sink into depression—something that must be treated along with the addiction in order to make a full recovery. Some gamers may also be prone to violent or suicidal tendencies, and their social skills suffer from a lack of contact with other people.
With help, an addict can typically make a full recovery. It’s sometimes necessary to make lifestyle changes that include limited Internet access or complete abstinence from video games. In most cases, however, the addict needs to strike a healthy balance between technology-related activities and “real” life. Gaming addictions can last a lifetime. Even after an addict has received help, he or she must be cautious to not slip back into those old habits. As with other addictions, gamers may relapse. This relapse doesn’t mean ultimate failure, but can be a setback in treatment.
If you or someone you know has a technology or gaming addiction, there are several groups that provide information and assistance. The following resources may be helpful: