When the topic of video game addiction comes up, most people immediately picture a 13-year-old boy absorbed in his Sony PlayStation or Xbox. But gaming addiction also affects adults. From the executive to the stay-at-home mom, the compulsive use of video, computer, and Internet games causes thousands of adults to ignore important work and family obligations.
An addiction to video games or computer games should be treated in much the same way as any other addiction. Like other addicts, gamers often are trying to escape problems in their lives. Video and computer games offer a particularly appealing escape to socially maladjusted teenagers, most often boys, who find it intoxicating to become immersed in a world completely under their control.
“When they play, their brains produce endorphins, giving them a high similar to that experienced by gamblers or drug addicts. Gamers’ responses to questions even mirror those of alcoholics and gamblers when asked about use,” said one addiction counselor.
But there is another very real challenge when quitting an activity that occupies all of your free time and involves pretty much everyone in your social network. Kids who are addicted to virtual reality have lost, or may never have had, the ability to comfortably communicate with people face to face. They’ve spent all of their time interacting in a virtual world and are extremely uncomfortable when dealing with real people in real time. In an online world, there is time to edit what you say. There’s also very little risk when the person you are talking with is in a different time zone, let alone a different country.
Shy or socially awkward kids are at greater risk of video game addiction than children who compete in sports or participate in group activities like afterschool clubs. Take away their computer or their game console and how will they spend their time? Helping them change will likely require some outside help. They need to build confidence in order to feel comfortable in the “real world.”
As anyone who has quit smoking or been on a diet knows, it is much harder to quit when the object of your addiction is always in your face and when everyone you know is participating in it. It’s likely that a child addicted to computer games also has to use the computer for schoolwork. And their friends are likely all gamers as well. So how do you begin to fight the addiction?
A therapist or treatment program that specializes in adolescents would be a first place to start. For example, a summer camp or wilderness program will get your child out of his normal environment and into a situation where he is forced to experience reality. His time will be filled with activities that are designed to instill confidence, develop healthy passions, and foster social skills.
Of course, choosing the right program, preferably one that has a therapeutic element, will be essential. Sending a socially challenged child to a rough-and-tumble military or boot camp with highly competitive activities could do more harm than good. Therapeutic boarding schools and wilderness camps for teens that specialize in treating addiction and behavioral issues may be just what your child needs to turn his life around.
Here are a few red flags that may point to a bigger problem:
- Lying about how much time you spend playing
computer or video games
- Playing computer or video games results in
intense feelings of pleasure or guilt that seem
- Spending more and more time playing video or
computer games to get the same enjoyment
- Withdrawing from friends, family, or your spouse
to the point of disrupting family, social, or work
- Experiencing feelings of anger, depression,
moodiness, anxiety, or restlessness when you’re not
- Spending significant sums of money for online
services, computer upgrades, or gaming systems
- Thinking obsessively about being on the computer
or playing video games even when doing other things
Adults addicted to gaming may have physical symptoms like difficulty sleeping, migraines, back and neck aches, dry eyes, or carpal tunnel syndrome.
As an adult, you may not have parents or other authority figures monitoring your behavior. If you notice some of these red flags in your own life, it is up to you to get help. If you have noticed any of these warning signs in a friend, family member, or colleague, lend your support and share your knowledge. There are dozens of counseling and treatment options available for those dealing with compulsive behaviors like video game addiction.