Video Game Addiction and Treatment

Video Game Addiction and Treatment

boy sitting on bench in park

Growing up in the Midwest in the 80’s and 90’s, my parents made it a priority to limit screen time for me and siblings. Unless we wanted to watch the evening news (snore!!) with my father, weekly TV was banned on school nights. Granted, no one in my family had cell phones at the time and we only had one TV and computer in the house. Today, a third of families in the U.S. have at least three smart phones in their households. My internet use was even more policed with use limited to school assignments and minimal game time on the weekends. In 2019, children and families are “plugged in” to screens more than ever.

As media use has increased over the years, so has the gaming culture in the U.S. In the U.S., 69% of household owns a gaming console. A Common Sense Media report published said children up to age 8 spend an average of 25 minutes a day engaging in video game play generally through the mobile devices. That number nearly doubles to 43 minutes of gaming for children from low income families. A survey conducted by MacAfee found that children, on average, spend nearly 15 hours a week gaming during their summer breaks. Furthermore, 94 percent of parents expressed concern about the potential risks that their child may be exposed to while engaging in gaming.

How can parents recognize when their child may have a problem with gaming? What might a gaming addiction look like and how might families resolve these challenges?

Currently there is no DSM-V diagnosis for video game addiction. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines a gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behavior repetition must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning”.

So what indicators should parents be looking for in their child. Tech addiction has put together a comprehensive list of symptoms which I have highlighted a few below:

Psychological Symptoms

  • Difficulty abstaining from video games for more than a few days
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Justifying excessive use (“Others play more than I do”)
  • Experiencing a loss of personal control while playing
  • Feelings of anger and frustration when not allowed access to the video game
  • Feeling depressed or anxious when not playing the game (especially for a prolonged period)
  • Downplaying the impact of the excessive habits (“It’s not as bad as alcohol addiction”)

Physical Symptoms

  • Sleep difficulties or significant change in sleep patterns
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Poor or irregular eating habits (e.g., waiting until extremely hungry before eating)
  • Headaches
  • Dry or red eyes
  • Sore fingers, neck, or back
  • Poor physical health or weight gain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Decreased academic performance
  • Aggression towards those who prevent or attempt to limit access to the video game
  • Frequently playing the game while neglecting important responsibilities
  • Spending more and more time with the video game
  • An inability to quit despite attempts to do so
  • Saying up late into the night to play
  • Large amounts of money spent on new games, expansion packs, micro-transactions, and computer upgrades
  • Gaming “binges” of 10 or more hours nonstop

Relational Symptoms

  • Lying to others about how much time is spent with the game
  • Declining social invitations so that game playing can continue
  • Less time spent with family and friends
  • Increased concern expressed by others at the amount of gaming time
  • A loss of real-world friends, but an increase in virtual world friends

Video games have a had a remarkable influence on the cultural attitudes, biopsychosocial growth, and family life choices for both children and their parents over the last forty plus years. Furthermore, gaming can be an overwhelming positive experience for your children that enhances educational learning and in moderation has shown evidence in improving coordination and problem solving skills. Many of the multiplayer/cooperative games can engage the whole family in loads of fun. Mario Kart being one of my personal favorites.

Yet, for a small percentage of children, the enjoyment and helpfulness of videogame playing can turn into a compulsive cycle that negatively impacts their daily functioning. So what resources are available to parents?

In-Patient/Out-Patient Treatment

In-patient an out-patient treatment can be an excellent way to remove your child or teen from the environment where the games are played and surround them with psychological and behavioral assistance from a team of mental health professionals. The challenge with these facilities is that programming is often very expensive and few programs that specifically focus on gaming addiction actually exist. Out-patient or group therapy may be more accessible. Group therapy is a valuable source of motivation and moral support, especially for adolescents or teens who have lost contact with friends or peers as a result of their game addiction.

Family Therapy

Couple and family therapists often utilize behavioral modification therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to address impulse control issues. These therapy frameworks can guide parents and their children away from the obsessive thought patterns and obsessive habits of video game addiction. Family or couples counseling can help educate loved ones about the disorder and help support parents in the creation of a more stable home environment. DBT therapists support families and their children through an emphasis on skill building in the areas of distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. If possible, it is best to find a therapist who has experience in both gaming and addiction.


Addiction to video games sometimes exists in tandem with co-occurring mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Consult with your PCP or psychiatrist to discuss the helpfulness of medication management in coordination with other treatments.

Books and Online Resources

Books and online resources are probably the cheapest treatment option available. A simple search on Amazon brings up multiple books on the topic including:

Addicted: Breaking Free From Video Game Addiction

Parenting a Video Game Addict: Strategies for Helping a Child Addicted to Video Games

The Computer, Internet, and Video Game Addiction Book

Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games

Helpful Websites