Video Game addiction is the compulsive and harmful use of video games leading to distress, suffering, or other negative life consequences. It can involve online games on phones or computers, console games on platforms like Playstation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch, or watching others’ gameplay on websites like Twitch or YouTube. Over time, video game addiction can lead to changes in the brain that compromise our ability to focus, prioritize, regulate our mood, and relate to others.
Those of us who have come to identify as video game addicts experienced several common symptoms. We played games for longer than we intended, despite attempts to control or cut back our use. Even when we were aware of the consequences and wanted to stop, we were unable to do so. When we weren’t playing video games, we experienced negative consequences and felt distracted and anxious, leaving us unable to enjoy and be present with our offline lives. We used video games to escape our problems and our emotions. Our addictive behaviors jeopardized our relationships with loved ones, educational pursuits, and career opportunities. We felt shame and demoralization about our gaming.
When we first noticed these troubling warning signs, we began to acknowledge that something wasn’t right. But many of us still questioned whether we really had an addiction. For those of us still wondering, the following questions may help us better identify whether there are signs of video game addiction in our lives.
Video Game Addiction Questionnaire:
- Do I ever start log on to a game with the intention of only playing for a short while, and then discover that hours have passed?
- Do I ever swear off or set limits around particular games or gaming habits, and then break my commitments?
- Do I have gaming binges that last all day or late into the night?
- Do I turn to video games whenever I have free time?
- Does my use of video games lead me to neglect my personal hygiene, nutritional needs, physical health, or other important daily activities?
- Do I feel lonely, emotionally absent, distracted, or anxious when I’m not playing video games?
- Does my video game use contribute to conflict or avoidance in personal relationships?
- Have my video game behaviors jeopardized my schoolwork, finances, or career?
- Do I hide or lie about the amount of time I spend on video games or the kinds of digital content I consume?
- Do I feel guilt or shame around my game playing?
Nobody should have to suffer due to their gaming behaviors. If you’ve answered yes to several of the above questions and identify with any of these symptoms of video game addiction, we encourage you to consider getting support.
What Are The Effects of Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction is closely related to internet addiction disorder (IAD), which was first investigated by the psychologist Dr. Kimberly S. Young, who published the original diagnostic criteria for this mental health condition in 1998. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR in APA) has formally labeled internet gaming disorder as an addiction, and this finding has also been included in the latest addition of diseases reported on by the World Health Organization (International Classification of Diseases, ICD-11). There is widespread consensus from both researchers and clinicians that the problematic and compulsive overuse of the internet, digital media, and video games has been rising over the past two decades, and that the prevalence of this behavioral addiction is associated with a variety of emotional, physical, interpersonal, and professional problems.
Perhaps most significantly, the dopamine releases triggered by video game addiction have been shown to cause structural changes in the brain very similar to the changes experienced in people with alcohol or drug addictions. These changes lead to impairments in our decision-making, reasoning, reward expectation, executive function, cognitive function, emotional processing, and our working memory. A variety of studies have shown that access to television and video games decreases the amount of pain medication needed by hospital patients.
Of course, the effects of this addiction are not only reflected in the structure of our brains, but in our daily lives as well. Internet and technology addiction is strongly associated with impulse control disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, increased substance use, and depression. In addition to these co-occurring disorders, it’s associated with a higher risk of cardiometabolic disease and obesity, lower sleep quality, increased fatigue, and symptoms of insomnia, all of which are correlated to a higher mortality rate. Perhaps most tragically of all, individuals with internet and technology addiction have much higher rates of suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts—roughly three times the average.
These findings are cause for serious concern. While some might minimize the impact of video game addiction in comparison to chemical substances, the truth is that video game addiction causes significant impairment in our brains in a manner similar to the effects produced by substance abuse of alcohol, heroin, or other drugs.
Who is at risk for Video Game Addiction?
Video Game addiction is a condition that can affect people of all ages, from children and adolescents to those later in life. Our meetings include young adults, college students, working professionals, parents, and retirees, with members of all ages, genders, and ethnicities from around the world. While the risk factors are varied, video game addiction does not discriminate based on age, educational level, socio-economic status, geography, race, or ethnicity. Its negative effects impact not only the addict themselves, but also their family members and friends. By damaging our potential, our self-esteem, and our quality of life, excessive use of video games can impair our lives. Additionally, by contributing to depression and suicidal tendencies, the mental health issues caused by our addiction can be life-threatening. Regardless of our background, if our video game habits are causing us to experience distress or difficulties, there are actions we can take to improve our situation and find relief.
A Solution for Video Game Addiction
While internet and technology addiction has only begun to receive attention in recent years, the disease of addiction is not new. Millions of people have found sustainable, long-term freedom from their addictive behaviors through mutual aid support groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. A recent systematic review conducted by Stanford public health researchers determined that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous was nearly always found to be more effective than other therapies in achieving continuous abstinence from alcoholism. The AA model has been successfully adapted to help people suffering from a variety of addictions, including narcotics, marijuana, nicotine, sex, pornography, and food, among others.
In continuation of this tradition, Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous applies the proven model of AA to help those who are suffering from an addiction to video games find long-term freedom from their self-destructive behaviors. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other through group meetings and one-on-one relationships, and we work a recovery program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our meetings are free and anonymous, and we welcome anyone who thinks they may benefit from support to visit one of our meetings.
Members Share Their Experiences Finding Recovery in ITAA
Family members and gamer schoolmates introduced me to video games when I was a kid. I loved the challenge, the learning, the freedom and the outreach I experienced. It made so much sense! However, the habit began taking control of my life while I was in sixth grade. I realized I was addicted. I tried to control my use on and off for years, but it hardly helped. Eventually, I found freedom from my addiction through ITAA.
I came to ITAA to get help with my video game playing time. The program helped me quit and I’ve been sober for two months, my longest time without playing a game since I can remember. I even learnt that I have adjacent “addictions”, like watching streams of video games. It has been life-changing for me. I have finally been able to start applying for jobs after my wife has been paying our bills for years.
My video game addiction took away all the time I could have used to live, have a career, have more meaningful relationships in the real world. It made me miserable. Through ITAA, I’m learning now to rebuild and enjoy my life.
Gaming was like crack cocaine for me—when I started, I had no idea when I’d stop. It could last 15 minutes, 15 hours, or 15 days. I especially struggled with role-playing games and multiplayer online battle arena games. I came to ITAA incredibly desperate and I can’t begin to describe how life-changing the program has been. It’s been over six years since I last played a video game and my life has been immeasurably improved as a result.
Our program has helped countless people find long-term freedom from video game addiction. For more personal stories, we encourage you to read and listen to the recovery stories on our website.
How to Recover From Video Game Addiction
While there is no permanent or quick cure for an addiction to video games, there are concrete actions we can take to recover from our compulsive behaviors and restore our emotional and mental wellbeing. We have found the following actions to be of significant help in finding long-term, sustainable freedom from our compulsive and problematic use of video games.
- Attend daily meetings. In addition to a growing number of face-to-face meetings around the world, ITAA has daily online meetings where our global fellowship meets to share experience, strength and hope with each other. We are encouraged to try attending six meetings in a short time frame to help decide whether ITAA may be helpful to us.
- Make daily outreach calls. Our video game dependence drew us into isolation and self-reliance. As we begin to recover, we learn that we can trust others and be vulnerable. Calling other members outside of meetings helps us stay connected, supported, and sober, and it gives us an opportunity to share in greater detail than we might during a meeting.
- Abstain. With the help of other members in recovery, we identify and abstain from the specific addictive behaviors which are causing the greatest difficulties in our lives. We recognize that this is a process that unfolds over time, and we make use of the support available to us in ITAA to remain sober one day at a time.
- Learn more about the recovery process. Our website has many resources about the nature of our addiction and how we might best chart our recovery journey, navigate withdrawal symptoms, and respond to cravings. In addition, there’s a rich body of literature from other 12 Step programs that we can lean on to better inform our healing process and to learn more about the time-tested methods which have helped millions of other addicts recover.
- Find a sponsor and work the steps. We have benefitted from asking somebody we resonate with to sponsor us and working the Twelve Steps together with them, which is the vital and transformative basis of our long-term recovery from our addiction. A great way to connect with potential sponsors is to make outreach calls with other members who are sober and working the Steps.
- Make use of outside help. Many members supplement their recovery with a variety of resources beyond ITAA, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, group therapy, psychiatry, inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment centers, other 12-Step fellowships, spiritual counsel, or other mental health wellness resources. While we do not endorse any one treatment option or intervention in particular, we encourage all members to avail themselves of any outside help that can support them in their recovery journey. A healthcare provider, mental health professional, or treatment facility may be able to give advice tailored to your situation.
What Does Sobriety From Video Game Addiction Look Like?
Sobriety in ITAA is a process of discovery that looks different for each of us. As part of this process, we identify and abstain from the specific behaviors which trigger our addiction. We have also found it beneficial to establish a positive vision for our internet and technology use. For example, we may practice using technology purposefully, minimally, or only as necessary. We respect each member’s own path to recovery, and we work with other experienced members to help define what sobriety means for each of us as individuals. As part of this process, we lean on meetings and phone calls to help maintain our sobriety commitments. Rather than gaming for distraction or to numb our emotions, we seek to use technology as a tool for meeting our goals, living in alignment with our values, and developing flourishing lives. In the process, we develop and strengthen real-life friendships, our social skills, and our self-esteem.
Types of Internet Addiction
While we all suffer from a common disease, it expresses itself in different ways for each of us. The following are some common compulsive internet and technology behaviors. It’s important to keep in mind that this list is neither comprehensive nor prescriptive—it is essential to identify our own personal compulsive or unnecessary internet and technology behaviors with the help of experienced, sober members.
- Social media addiction is the addictive use of social media platforms, messaging apps, newsfeeds, discussion forums, chat rooms, and online communities. Addictive social media use can include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Reddit, Pinterest, and others.
- Streaming addiction is the compulsive and addictive use of any streaming platforms or content. This includes online videos, movies, television, podcasts, and platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Twitch, or TikTok.
- Phone addiction is the compulsive and self-destructive use of smartphone devices and apps. This may involve excessive phone use or compulsive notification checking, especially at inappropriate times such as late at night or while studying, working, or driving.
- Porn addiction is the addictive consumption of digital erotic content and can also entail other unhealthy digital sexual behaviors. This can include pornographic videos, images, or writing, sexually arousing imagery, anonymous chat rooms, and dating apps.
- Information Addiction is an addictive and unhealthy relationship to researching and consuming information. This can include an addiction to the news, scrolling social media feeds, online shopping, online encyclopedias, and compulsive online research such as product or health research.
Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous is a Twelve-Step fellowship based on the principles pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. Our organization is entirely volunteer-based and self-supporting. The only requirement to participate in ITAA is a desire to stop using internet and technology compulsively.
We have no opinions on outside issues, and we neither condemn nor condone any particular technology. We are not affiliated with any political agenda, religious movement, or outside interests. Our single purpose is to abstain from compulsive internet and technology use and to help others find freedom from this addiction. ITAA is a US 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt nonprofit incorporated in the state of Colorado.
Page last updated on September 3, 2023