In the digital age, people are spending more time online than ever. But what happens when these activities become an addiction? Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is a type of digital addiction that has been gaining recognition around the world as a mental health disorder. In order to prevent IGD, it is important to understand the symptoms, causes, and possible treatment options.
What Is a Digital Addiction?
Digital addiction is a problem that increasingly affects people in the 21st Century. With more and more people engaging with digital platforms, the potential for addiction is greater than ever. People who struggle with a digital addiction may obsessively play internet games, scroll endlessly through social media content, or lose thousands of dollars betting on online gambling platforms.
Due to the instant gratification that the internet provides, digital addiction can be difficult to break. Many people become dependent on their instant access to the internet and use it as a form of escapism and avoidance. People who are addicted to being online may have difficulty focusing in other areas of life, such as work or school. It is important to recognize the signs of digital addiction so that people can take steps to manage it, such as setting time limits for internet use or seeking professional help.
What Is an Internet Gaming Disorder?
Although many people use to scoff at the idea of an addiction to games, parents are now beginning to understand the seriousness of internet gaming disorders. Despite having been around for a relatively short period of time, internet addiction has taken the world by storm.
More specifically, internet gaming disorder (IGD) appears to be as physically and psychologically addicting as internet gambling disorder. IGD is not just frequent video game playing. Alternatively, people who suffer from an internet gaming disorder experience a significant impairment of their mental health and ability to socialize due to compulsive gaming.
What Are Common Signs of a Gaming Disorder?
Do you find yourself spending more time playing video games than you used to? Do you have difficulty controlling how often you play or for how long? Are your grades, relationships, or other areas of your life suffering because of it? Alternatively, does this describe a child or a loved one’s behavior?
Gaming disorder affects people differently and can range from mild to severe. Some people may only experience symptoms occasionally and be able to control their gaming behavior. This can often obscure the warning signs to the people around them. On the other hand, many people experience frequent or intense symptoms that negatively impact multiple areas of life.
Common signs of an internet gaming disorder include:
- Spending increasing amounts of time playing video games
- Daily routine revolves around compulsive gaming habits
- Thinking and talking about gaming instead of being in the moment
- Quick to rage or devastation when something interrupts their game
- Driven by the need to spend every moment engaging in games
- Brushing off the negative consequences of gaming
- Lying about finishing tasks to return to games
- Lack of interest in real-life activities
- Neglecting daily hygiene, hydration, meals, and sleep
- Inability to manage life responsibilities, school, or work
- Avoiding family members or friends to prevent interruptions while gaming
- Lying about the amount of time spent playing video games
Often, gamers become increasingly numb to the feeling of gratification, needing to play longer and achieve higher scores in the game in order to feel satisfaction or accomplishment. Unfortunately, this obsessive pattern of behavior often leads to worsening side effects.
For instance, gamers may start to experience physical symptoms such as backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, and dry eyes due to extensive playing sessions. Another common physical health side effect of IGD is sleep deprivation.
Online Gaming Vs Online Gambling
Online gaming and online gambling mean two distinctly different things yet sometimes the condition results in the same consequences. Like alcohol and methamphetamine abuse, the drug may be different, but the disorder and healing process are essentially the same. A little-known fact, a digital addiction to gaming causes similar, if not the same, negative consequences as gambling or substance abuse. As a result, they require the same intensive clinical care to successfully recover from their behavioral addiction.
However, unlike substance abuse, the internet is fully legal and accessible to nearly everyone. As a result, digital addiction and internet gaming disorder can affect anyone.
Whether a person gambles in person or online, they risk something of value in hopes of a specific outcome of an event or contest. Alternatively, someone who plays online games spends time and effort to achieve digital and social rewards.
In spite of their differences, online gaming and online gambling are often met with zeal and perseverance by younger generations. This blind acceptance leads to a widespread number of internet gaming disorders in youths. The uptick in online gambling disorder is also far more prevalent among younger people when compared with older “traditional” gamblers.
While many people understand the dangers of gambling and substance abuse, most underestimate the negative toll digital addictions can have on a person. Often, adults and children dismiss the significance of digital addictions. As a result, more people are vulnerable to the debilitating and disruptive side effects of internet gaming disorder.
How Do Addictions Experts Determine Who Suffers from Internet Gaming Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) is the primary tool used by mental health professionals in diagnosing mental disorders. It provides detailed criteria for diagnosis, as well as treatment plans and other information.
In regards to gaming addiction, DSM-5 states that an IGD may be present when 5 or more of the disorder’s criteria occur within a 12-month period.
The DSM-5 criteria for Internet Gaming Disorder include:
- Obsessed with games to the point that the person is daydreaming about previous gaming or planning the next game. Daily living revolves around gaming.
- Impatience, intolerance, irritability, anger, anxiety, or unhappiness occur when gaming stops. This is similar if not identical to drug withdrawal symptoms.
- Neuronal down-regulation or tolerance manifests through the compulsion to spend more time playing games.
- Several attempts to stop or reduce gaming thoughts and actions.
- Decreased interest in pleasurable activities outside of gaming.
- Minimization, rationalization, or denial of psychosocial consequences are less important than games.
- Not being honest with family, counselors, or others about the unhealthy relationship with gaming.
- Gaming is a “drug” that helps to escape reality. Or, gaming distracts from feelings of boredom, attention deficit, dependence, oppression, guilt, anxiety, rejection, low self-esteem, and unhappiness.
- The gamer has knowingly or unknowingly suffered psychosocial losses. This includes setbacks, or erosion of relationships, academic performance, employment, or educational or career opportunity.
Trained professionals use the DSM-5 to ensure that diagnosis and treatment are based on each individual’s mental health needs. Similarly, understanding digital addiction and gaming disorders allows mental health professionals to help individuals navigate the healing process.
The Connection Between Digital Addictions And Substance Abuse
All forms of digital addictions fall under the category of behavioral addictions. Behavioral addictions—also called process addictions—harm a person’s physical and mental health. In general, people who suffer from process addictions compulsively use their fixation to cope with stress, loneliness, and other negative emotions.
While these addictions do not require the use of substances to receive a diagnosis, it is common for people to struggle with both a substance use disorder and a behavioral disorder. In these cases, the person sufferers from a co-occurring disorder.
For example, a person can struggle with an internet gaming disorder and abuse stimulant drugs. Often, younger people may abuse ADHD medications like Adderall to stay awake while playing games all night long.
The longer an unhealthy behavior continues, the person’s obsession takes over their life. As a result, these behavior-related addictions eventually interfere with the individual’s relationships, school or work performance, and other aspects of their lives.
How to Discuss Gaming Habits With Someone Who Has a Digital Addiction?
While the symptoms of video game addiction can vary from person to person, it is important to address the unhealthy behaviors. When attempting to limit someone’s time gaming, the person may feel restless, irritable, or depressed. Sometimes people with internet gaming disorder will lash out due to overwhelming feelings of anger, depression, or anxiety.
When facing such extreme reactions, parental figures often double down with punishments that remove their child’s access to games. Similarly, romantic partners may deliver an ultimatum to their partner, making them choose the relationship or games.
Instead of punishing a person with a digital addiction, it is important to discuss the emotions that they are feeling and why they feel such a strong attachment to gaming. In addition, encouraging your loved one to re-establish healthy habits can help them to regain a sense of normalcy. For extreme cases of internet gaming addiction, counseling can provide a safe and secure environment for people to get help with their disorder.
Getting Help For Digital Addiction
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach that has been proven effective in treating digital addiction. CBT strategies can be beneficial in helping people restructure their thought patterns, allowing them to gain better control over their urges and behavior related to internet gaming disorders.
CBT skills can help develop beneficial skills such as:
- Gaining insight into feelings
- Reframing thought patterns
- Managing triggers
- Problem-solving obstacles
In individualized counseling settings, cognitive behavioral therapy incorporates education and activities to discuss problematic internet gaming, social media scrolling, and other forms of digital addiction.
During cognitive behavioral therapy, therapists ask questions about the compulsion to spend time online. Throughout therapy, discussions help to uncover the underlying causes of an individual’s pathological internet use. These therapeutic conversations provide the best outcomes when applied to those suffering from IGD.
A CBT therapist can also help individuals create alternative activities to replace the time they would normally spend gaming. Other topics that might be explored include learning how to regulate emotions, developing strategies to manage stress and anxiety, and improving communication skills.
If you recognize these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it is important to seek help. Reaching out to a medical professional for assistance with a digital addiction like internet gaming disorder can put you on the right track toward recovery and happiness.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a gaming disorder, please reach out to us today. Our admissions team is available 24/7 at (877)-RECOVERY to answer your questions.