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For most gamers, gaming is a fun hobby. They experience little or no problems because of it. Nevertheless, a small group of people play a lot of games and get into trouble. Sometimes gaming is a way to escape from problems and sometimes gaming itself causes problems. In any case, gaming should be taken into account when dealing with the problems.

About gaming disorders

But when is someone a fanatical (hobby) gamer and when is gaming behavior problematic?

Gaming becomes a problem when people lose control over it. Someone spends so much time gaming that he or she gets into trouble, for example at work or school, financially or with relationships. There is no longer a good balance between gaming and other activities. Moreover, it is not possible to reduce gaming.

In the ICD-11, a diagnostic instrument issued by the WHO, two diagnoses for problems related to gaming were added in June 2018. A distinction is made between mild problems due to gaming (problematic gaming or risky gaming) and severe problems due to gaming (gaming disorder or “gaming addiction”).

  1. Problem gaming/risky gaming
    If someone experiences some (mild) problems due to gaming, we speak of problematic or hazardous gaming and not of addiction. According to the ICD-11, this means that someone is at increased risk of physical or mental problems because of gaming. A person may be at risk because of:
  • the amount of time spent gaming
  • Other activities being affected by gaming behavior (e.g., work/school and social activities)
  • risky behavior associated with gaming (such as incorrect posture, which can lead to physical complaints; or spending too much money in a game)
  • continuing to game, even though aware of the risk of negative consequences.
  1. A gaming disorder or ‘gaming addiction’.
    When a person experiences serious problems related to their gaming behavior, we speak of a gaming disorder.

According to the ICD-11, a gaming disorder is defined as occurring over a period of more than 12 months

  • Continuing to game despite serious, negative consequences on physical and mental health, personal relationships, education or work.
  • A lack of control over how much one gambles.
  • An excessive preference for gaming over other activities in daily life (imbalance).
  • Within psychiatry, a different diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, is used. Here the diagnosis of gaming addiction does not (yet) exist. But even here, internet gaming disorder has been included since 2013 as a condition that needs further research and practice.

Symptoms: How to detect a gaming disorder

Gaming addiction is accompanied by various symptoms with physical and psychological features. All the symptoms are just as bad as any other addiction. When are you addicted to gaming? On this page you will find more information about the symptoms of gaming too much.

7 characteristics that may indicate gaming addiction

When are you a game addict? When does gaming behaviour turn into problematic gaming behaviour? The symptoms of too much gaming you face when you are a game addict are often similar to those who suffer from gambling addiction. The main gaming addiction symptoms and symptoms of too much gaming are:

  • obsessive thoughts (can think of nothing else but gaming)
  • spending a lot of time on 1 specific game
  • withdrawal symptoms if you can not play games
  • sleep problems
  • other physical complaints
  • Neglect of your friends and family. The virtual gaming world becomes more important than the real world around you
  • Your work and/or studies are at the expense of gaming.

Spending a lot of time gaming is a characteristic of problematic gaming behavior. But gaming a lot, for a long time or often does not always lead to problems. The amount of time you spend gaming says nothing about whether you are a gaming addict. The combination of signs can indicate a gaming addiction.

Physical consequences of game addiction

If you are a game addict you often have to deal with the physical characteristics of the addiction. For example:

  • Through problematic gaming behaviour you take less care of yourself. For example, you skip meals, exercise too little and get insufficient sleep.
  • Your health can suffer. You suffer from fatigue, and headaches, you are lifeless, your eyes become irritated, your legs start to itch, and you have cramped shoulders and/or burning wrists.
  • Psychological characteristics of game addiction
  • In addition to the physical characteristics, psychological symptoms of game addiction can also occur.
  • You are restless, tense, easily irritated or perhaps even depressed when you cannot play games
  • You are constantly thinking about gaming in your head, even when you are not playing
  • You react irritably or angrily if someone disturbs you while gaming
  • You cannot manage to keep to the time limit you set for yourself
  • Your attempts to play less fail
  • You suffer from recurring feelings of gloom and alienation from reality

How do you recognize problematic behaviour?

If gaming gets out of hand, how do you recognize it and what can you do?

Based on the number of hours someone spends gaming, it is impossible to determine whether or not gaming is problematic: the important thing is that there are problems with healthy functioning. The following points can be first signs that there are problems with gaming:

  • Loss of balance: completely neglecting other activities (e.g., work/school/sports)
  • Finding it very difficult to stop gaming
  • Gaming for longer and more than intended
  • Gaming when it is actually not fun to play anymore
  • Persistent feelings of loneliness, stress or gloom
  • Taking less care of oneself, such as not sleeping or eating enough
  • Using gaming to escape or alleviate negative feelings (helplessness, guilt, anxiety)
  • Use this self-test to get an idea of whether gaming is a fun hobby or a problem.

Work, study and social contacts can also suffer from gaming. It may be that games are used as a kind of escape from ‘normal life’. The games distract you from other, sometimes unpleasant, things in reality. Negative thoughts are numbed and replaced by an exciting virtual reality.

Gaming addiction treatment

For the treatment of game addiction, until today, there is little research on proven effective methods. In daily practice, gaming addiction is treated in addiction treatment facilities in a similar way to other addictions. It has been shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), possibly supplemented with medication such as SSRIs, mood stabilizers and nalmefene, has the most promising positive effects.

In addition, it is important to provide parenting support and educate parents about gaming. Parents can play a role in monitoring gaming behavior, setting boundaries and encouraging alternative activities.

  • Click here for more tips for parents.

When treating gaming addiction, it is important to pay attention to comorbidities; such as ADHD, autism, mood disorders, or other addictions. Comorbidity is common and it is important to find out what role gaming plays in these other problems. For example, is gaming a cause or effect of depression?

Our award-winning treatments include gambling addicition treatment.

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