The DSM-5, a manual for diagnosing mental illnesses, defines addiction as “excessive behavioral patterns.”
Expanding on this definition, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines addiction as:
“a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.”
While it might sound like an exaggeration to define excessive gaming as an addiction, if you’re a parent of a child who loves gaming, then you know that gaming can be addictive. This article will help you understand the effects of excessive gaming and what you can do to help your troubled teen.
Gaming addiction in teens
As with other types of addictions, gaming is a way of coping with everyday stressors. It’s also a form of escapism. According to the Mott Poll organization, 19% of girls spend at least 3 hours per day playing video games. Guess where boys are at?
37% of boys spend at least 3 hours per day playing video games.
Besides seemingly being “fun,” you might be wondering, “why are teens so into gaming, and what makes them an addict?”
There are two main reasons why gaming can become an addiction.
1. The need for increased pleasure-neurotransmitters
Video games are often addicting because they trigger dopamine, a neurotransmitter that causes pleasure to be felt in our brains and bodies. Dopamine requires greater levels to be triggered each time for pleasure to be felt, a teen who has been consistently gaming for an hour will start to feel like it’s not enough. Eventually, they’ll need more and more hours to get the same feeling that they had when they initially began with an hour.
The process of needing more of the same thing to feel pleasure can lead to addiction. Addiction is more evident in substance-abuse and can be difficult to point out in gaming since gaming is seen as harmless.
2. Gaming is a distraction
Another reason why gaming is addictive is because it’s a distraction. For teens who are stressed out about homework, grades, college/university, friends, romance, and family, gaming can be one way of coping or escaping from thinking about these stressors.
Gaming is a healthy form of coping when it’s done minimally. For example, 45 minutes a day being spent gaming might be healthy. It’s healthy because it helps a teen recharge and gets ready to handle other tasks rather than spending all day working on homework or chores. Think about it, 45 minutes of TV might not be so bad if you need a brief time to rest.
Gaming becomes unhealthy when it’s used as a way of escaping responsibilities. For example, a teen who has an exam the next day and plays for 45 minutes is not using gaming as a type of play. This teen, instead, is using gaming as a way of escaping their reality.
The side effects of excessive gaming
Gaming too much has side effects as with all types of addictions. Here are some of the side effects of gaming.
Gaming addiction can lead to problems with functioning on a daily level
Like all other types of addictions, gaming can cause problems with functioning in life. When troubled teens become addicted to gaming, they might not be able to take care of themselves, their surroundings, and their responsibilities.
For example, parents of teen and adult gamers sometimes report poor hygiene and grooming habits due to excessive gaming.
Gaming addiction can lead to family and social issues
Another effect of gaming addiction is that it makes it difficult to engage with others.
For example, some families that take away their teen’s game sometimes report that they become more irritable and even hostile. A teen with a gaming addiction cares so much for gaming, any attempt to change their relationship with gaming can be met with anger and irritability.
Gaming addiction can lead to academic issues
Finally, gaming addiction can lead to poor academic performance. Excessive gaming leaves little room for anything else. For a teen who’s used to gaming, it can also lead to sleep disturbances and trouble with focus since the teen ultimately is more concerned about gaming than academics.
How to help your troubled teen manage a gaming addiction
Here are a few tips to help you with your teen who’s addicted to gaming.
1. Have a conversation with your teen about why they’re gaming
One of the best ways to help your teen with gaming addiction is to ask why they’re gaming so much and what you can do to help them. Sometimes, those with an addiction might not have insight into their addiction. When you and your teen have a conversation, you can then share your concerns.
2. Gradually reduce time spent gaming
Rather than quitting cold-turkey, encourage your teen to reduce the amount of time they spend gaming gradually. This method of slowly giving up an addiction helps more than giving it up entirely and then relapsing.
For example, if you have a teen who games for 3 hours a day, encourage them to spend a week playing it only for two and half hours. Over time, reduce this to an allocated time that you and your teen are comfortable with.
3. Fill in the time spent gaming with other activities
Another way to help your teen with gaming addiction is by filling in the time that they would be gaming with other activities.
For example, have them try new sports or hobbies and find out which hobby they’re more interested in. Use this hobby to fill in the gap that was left behind by abstaining from gaming.
Just as methadone clinics fill in the gaps for previously addicted to illicit substances, other activities can replace gaming.
4. Have a consequence for excessive gaming
Finally, try to have consequences set in place for excessive gaming. You might take away their phone or assign more chores to them if they continue to play beyond the time you and your teen have agreed upon.
It’s important to note that while taking away the game itself might be helpful, it will not help your relationship with your teen.
What to do when nothing works
If you’ve tried every technique and nothing works, then reach out to a residential treatment center. Mental health professionals at a residential treatment center that specializes in treating teens with gaming addiction would be able to help your teen with this addiction.
Reach out to us at Help Your Teen Now so that we can help you and your family find the right center for your teen.