What to do When Video Games Become an Addiction

It seems like videos games and teens were made for one another. Teens can often be found spending hours each day playing a range of games that they enjoy. While there is sometimes an important social aspect to playing video games with friends near and far, parents must be aware of some serious concerns.

Casual video game use can soon transition into an addiction. Perhaps you’ve found yourself concerned about the amount of time your teen spends playing games or at odds with your teen when it comes time to turn the games off and focus on homework or other responsibilities.

Understanding video game addiction in teens

Video game addiction is considered to be a process addiction, also referred to as behavioral addiction. Behavioral addictions are process addictions that can be characterized by overwhelmingly strong impulses to participate in behaviors even if there are serious and negative consequences.

These behaviors can elevate the mood by activating what is known as the brain’s reward center. This part of the brain releases dopamine, which is just one part of making the behaviors so appealing. Process addictions don’t include addictions to alcohol or drugs, but they can have the same impact on the brain as these substances do.

Teens who are playing video games will often feel an uncontrollable compulsion to keep playing. Just one more level. Just one more mission.

A few years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) took steps to acknowledge the seriousness of video game addiction in teens. It classified a gaming disorder as being a mental health condition that can be diagnosed and treated.

Three primary criteria can be used in the diagnosis of a video addiction:

1. Uncontrollable urges to continue playing video games, and a lack of wanting to try and control the urges to play.

2. Feeling that there is nothing more important than playing video games. This could include a belief that games are more important than relationships with family and friends.

3. Continuing to focus on video games, despite any negative consequences faced by gaming.

Signs of a video game addiction

How can you tell whether your teen is an avid fan of games or he has fallen into the category of being considered addicted?

Signs of video game addiction to look for in teens:

  • Constantly thinking, talking, and focusing on games, gaming, and things to do with gaming.
  • Losing interest in other activities he once enjoyed, including sports and spending time with family and friends.
  • Lying about how much he plays videos games.
  • Sneaking game time instead of sleeping or focusing on homework.
  • Showing the signs of withdrawal when not able to or allowed to play video games. This could include anxiety, irritability, and anger. He may lash out at everyone around him.
  • Neglecting his schoolwork, falling behind, and even failing classes.
  • Losing track of time while playing video games.
  • Turning to gaming when feeling upset, angry, anxious, or stressed.
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and health because of being so engrossed in video games.
  • Avoiding family and friends in lieu of playing video games.

If you recognize some of these signs in your teen, it’s time to consider getting him the right kind of help to get him back on track.

What you can do

It’s unrealistic to think that your teen can be cut off entirely from all device use. That’s not the world that we live in, but you can take some steps to help control what he’s doing and how much time he is spending using video games, including:

  • No longer allow him to have his video game consoles and other gaming devices in his bedroom. Access to them should be limited to hours that you designate.
  • Establish a list of ways that he can earn extra video game time. For example, if he completes all of his household chores in a day, he may earn an extra 30 minutes to an hour playing his favorite game. While bribery isn’t always the best option, consider this to be a negotiation so that your teen can still have some freedom to play his games.
  • To keep your teen from playing his video games in secret at night while the rest of the family sleeps, you may need to remove the consoles so that he doesn’t have access to them. The goal is to help him learn self-control when it comes to video game use. If it means that you need to exercise control first, then so be it.
  • Make clear rules related to screen time, video games, and age-appropriate games.
  • Monitor his gaming use, the types of games that he has access to. Games that are not age-appropriate could expose him to a world of violence and rage. Many of these games do tend to take a mental health toll on those who play them extensively.
  • Lead by example. That means spending less time using your own electronic devices and more time focused on the family. You can hardly expect your teen to ease up on his gaming time if he sees you gaming yourself or spending countless hours scrolling through social media.

When it comes to addictive behavior, it’s important to get the right type of treatment to ensure a steady road to recovery.

Treatment options for video game addiction

As is the case with any behavioral disorder or addictive behavior, effective treatment for your teen’s video game addiction will need to address the underlying causes that have led to the addiction. It’s also important to note that you can’t force a reluctant teen into recovery. Your teen needs to be a willing participant in your efforts to get him onto the path of recovery.

Treatment options for teens struggling with video game addiction:

  • Treatment can look different for every teen and may also involve other members of the family. Family therapy can be an excellent place to start, as it allows every family member to address how your teen’s video game addiction is impacting them and their relationship with him.
  • Individual therapy can allow your teen the safe space he needs to focus on the things that are potentially responsible for his addictive behavior.
  • Some teens respond well to certain medications to help treat their anxiety or depression. This can go a long way towards helping them to better focus on recovering from their addictive behavior.
  • Speak to his teachers, coaches, and school administrators about what you can do to help him catch up on his schoolwork. If he’s fallen significantly behind on schoolwork, it will take a team effort to help him get caught up and back on the right education path.

In some cases, removing your teen completely from his environment can be the best option to help him focus on recovery. A residential treatment facility can offer the supportive environment he needs. With a focus on recovery, targeted therapy options, and learning about healthy mental wellness, your teen will be in a much better position to work through his video game addiction.

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