The video game industry has become one of the largest, most lucrative industries in recent years with the release of newer consoles, extensive gaming experiences, and greater accessibility. With more individuals playing video games than ever before, it’s essential to learn healthy gaming habits and what to do if gaming becomes an addiction.
Here are 10 Signs that video games are becoming a problem for you:
- Irritability When You Can’t Play
- Using Video Games as an Escape
- Neglecting Personal Hygiene and Health
- Obsessively Thinking About Video Games
- Uncontrollable Anger While Playing
- Ignoring Responsibilities
- Intense Isolation
- Unable to Quit Gaming
- Excessively Depending on Gaming as a Way to Feel Better
- Spending Too Much Money on Gaming-Related Expenses
In this article, I’ll explore each of these signs and how they might indicate a potential addiction to video games.
When Does Gaming Become a Problem?
Gaming becomes a problem when it negatively affects your emotional and physical health, social life, responsibilities, and relationships. While video games can be a positive, beneficial hobby, relying on video games to regulate emotions can lead to dependency and addiction.
Video games do not inherently cause problems. Gaming can be very social, encouraging friendships, cooperation, and teamwork. Many video games are educational or promote fun ways to exercise and move your body. Others tell engaging, immersive stories that leave lasting emotional impacts.
However, because there are thousands of video games out there to choose from that are affordable and easily accessible, gaming can become an unhealthy escape from reality. Some video games are designed to take advantage of the reward center in your brain, promoting a constant release of dopamine so that gamers continue coming back for more pleasurable feelings in an unhealthy way.
Is Gaming Addiction Real?
Gaming addiction is real. The American Psychiatric Association’s manual lists several signs of what to look for when gaming becomes a problem.
You can tell if video games are becoming a problem by looking at your internal and external situation. If you are experiencing compulsive urges to continue gaming to the point where your other responsibilities are suffering, you may have a gaming problem.
10 Signs That Video Games Are Becoming a Problem for You
1. Irritability When You Can’t Play
One of the easiest signs to look for that might signal an addiction to video games is extreme irritability when you cannot play.
Healthy hobbies involve a reasonable balance between work and play. Too much work can lead to excessive stress and failing health, while too much play can cause laziness and irresponsibility. Having a healthy balance between hobbies and duties means that you are taking care of yourself emotionally and physically.
If you find yourself being irritable or frustrated when you can’t play video games, it could be a sign of withdrawal. Withdrawals occur when you no longer have easy access to that dependable, pleasurable dopamine-producing activity.
To avoid feeling irritable when you can’t play video games, try an activity that promotes healthy dopamine releases.
Instead of gaming, you can:
- Create something
- Listen to music
- Go outside
- Cuddle with your pet
2. Using Video Games as an Escape
Life can be stressful and difficult. It can be easy to come home after a long, taxing day of work and spend hours playing a video game. Being immersed in a different world with easily solvable problems and with achievable tasks can be relaxing and relieve much of your stress.
Video games aren’t the only form of escapism. Television, books, and even podcasts offer a similar promise: a few hours of distraction from real life’s problems and worries. However, using media as a form of escapism excessively, video games included, can lead to more issues than you might think.
Spending hours playing a video game when you need to buy groceries, spend time with your family, fix your car, study for an exam, or attend to bills can result in a vicious cycle. To distract yourself from your problems, you avoid them, leading to more problems you don’t want to deal with.
You can seek out healthier time-management and stress-relief techniques like:
- Practicing mindfulness
- Setting a timer for gaming
- Making a prioritized to-do list to tackle responsibilities in smaller chunks
Avoiding Depression or Other Mental Health Issues
While many play video games to avoid responsibilities like work or school, gaming can also become an escape from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. If you exhibit typical symptoms of depression or anxiety, consider speaking to a mental health professional rather than relying on games to regulate your emotions.
3. Neglecting Personal Hygiene and Health
A clear sign that you have a problematic relationship with video games is neglecting your personal hygiene and health. This can happen in anyone from children to adults.
For example, young children might be so glued to the game on their screens that they might ignore their body’s signals that they need to relieve their bladder. This can lead to accidents even in older, potty-trained children.
More commonly, an addiction to video games can lead to adults neglecting personal hygiene. Becoming too immersed in a game can cause a breakdown of habits–showering, brushing teeth, combing hair, and exercising can become uncommon and unimportant compared to time spent gaming.
Similarly, spending too much time gaming can mean that you aren’t prioritizing cooking, leading to unhealthy eating habits.
4. Obsessively Thinking About Video Games
Video games can be inspiring and thought-provoking. It’s normal to think about video games, their stories, and even plan strategies while not playing. That being said, it can become a problem when video games consume every thought.
Thinking about video games during every waking thought–and even during dreams–can indicate a problem. In life, you need to spend time thinking about other things, like responsibilities, relationships, future plans, other hobbies, and more.
If you have trouble focusing on studying or work or maintaining friendships because you can’t stop thinking about video games, it might be a sign that you need a break.
Here are some ideas to avoid obsessively thinking about games:
- Write in a journal.
- Spend time outside.
- Try a new hobby.
- Try a gaming ‘fast’.
5. Uncontrollable Anger While Playing
Many games, primarily online competitive gaming, can lead to hyperarousal. Hyperarousal means that your body is entering a state of fight-or-flight. You can experience real emotions regarding virtual or simulated experiences, and your body will respond accordingly.
Hyperarousal looks like this:
- Fidgeting, jitters
- Inability to focus
- Lack of empathy
When constantly placed in this state, players may find they have difficulty managing their emotions, especially anger. If you find yourself getting unreasonably angry during online matches and cannot healthily control your feelings, this indicates a gaming problem.
Uncontrollable anger can include yelling, swearing, or verbally abusing other players, destroying personal equipment, and a raised heart rate and blood pressure.
If you experience extreme anger that leads to real-life violence while gaming, a professional can teach you how to manage your anger in a healthier way.
Anger When Games Are Turned Off or Paused
Another sign of a video game problem can be when you grow uncontrollably angry when a game is turned off or paused by an external source, like a parent or spouse. While it is reasonable to want to enjoy a hobby uninterrupted, becoming wildly angry when a game is turned off or paused after excessive playtime or while neglecting responsibilities could indicate an addiction to video games.
6. Ignoring Responsibilities
Similar to using video games as an escape, playing video games so much that you ignore responsibilities demonstrates an apparent problem with your relationship to gaming.
While it may not be the healthiest use of time, individuals with little-to-no responsibilities may be able to play video games for hours upon end without hardly any consequences. In contrast, an adult with a job, bills to pay, children to raise, a relationship to care for, pets to feed and exercise, and other similar responsibilities does not have the same freedom.
Spending hours upon hours playing video games will lead to several, perhaps serious consequences when essential duties are ignored.
A spouse may feel frustrated that you are gaming again instead of helping with household chores or spending time with them. Children will be neglected emotionally if your attention is on a game and not their needs. Pets may become destructive and unhealthy if not exercised and fed appropriately. Your job or financial status can become jeopardized if bills go unpaid or you miss work due to gaming.
Having so many responsibilities can be overwhelming and emotionally isolating. As stated before, it’s crucial to have a healthy balance between activities that bring joy and obligations that you must attend to.
If you find yourself unable to take care of your responsibilities, consider speaking to a mental health professional, spouse, or a trusted friend to work on having more balance in your life. Make a plan to enjoy gaming healthily rather than using it as a way to avoid your responsibilities.
7. Intense Isolation
While gaming can lead to real-life friendships and social interaction among individuals separated by distance, time, and circumstance, it can also lead to extreme social isolation.
If you find that you are spending so much time playing video games that you cannot maintain any healthy friendships or desired relationships, that could indicate a problem with gaming.
Online relationships are valid and can sometimes even lead to long-term relationships. However, becoming too immersed in a video game can lead to unhealthy isolation habits and exacerbating conditions like agoraphobia or social anxiety.
The anonymity provided by gaming can often make communicating with others more straightforward than real-life. However, these anonymous relationships can sometimes be superficial and short-lasting and can lead to difficulty speaking to others in real life.
If you find yourself self-isolating unhealthily and are using gaming as a way to fill your time instead of developing and nurturing relationships, there are solutions.
You can combat isolation by:
- Joining an in-person gaming club or group
- Going to a convention and meeting people
- Seeing a therapist to address social anxiety or agoraphobia
- Planning a safe, in-person meet-up with online friends you trust
8. Unable To Quit Gaming
Being unable to quit is a sure sign of addiction in many different circumstances, including video games. You might want to spend less time gaming, understanding that it’s harming your physical and emotional health and damaging relationships. Yet, you might have trouble quitting gaming or even lessening the amount of time you spend playing.
If you have an extremely hard time stopping gaming or moderating the time you spend gaming, then your addiction may require external or professional help.
You could join an online forum dedicated to helping keep you accountable, enlist a trusted friend to ensure you are abstaining from video games, attend an addiction-recovery program, or visit a therapist for professional addiction help.
Often, addictions can stem from childhood trauma. In this case, seeing a trauma-informed therapist can help you get to the root of your addiction to prevent any future relapses and ensure healthy gaming habits in the future.
Gaming Is a Valid Addiction
Often, addiction is related to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or other substances and activities. It is entirely possible to become addicted to video games, and it is a valid addiction problem.
There can be false societal stereotypes surrounding gaming. These can cause shame, misunderstandings, confusion, and more addressing video game addictions.
Common and often conflicting false ideas surrounding video game addiction include:
- If you play any amount of video games, you’re addicted.
- You can’t be addicted to video games.
- Becoming angry or violent in response to gaming is normal and even humorous.
- Spending money on gaming isn’t gambling.
These ideas can diminish real gaming problems and amplify normal relationships with gaming. Gaming can be a healthy hobby, and it can cause addiction when used unhealthily.
Understanding that both those ideas can be true can help differentiate between real addiction to video games and a normal hobby.
9. Excessively Depending on Gaming as a Way To Feel Better
When used correctly, gaming can be a healthy hobby that can:
- Relieve stress
- Encourage relationships
- Promote problem-solving
Gaming can transport you to different worlds, allow you to ‘inhabit’ another ‘person’, inspire you with engaging stories, or connect you with faraway friends virtually. Cooperative gaming can strengthen relationships, create memorable moments, and help you get to know others in a new and exciting way.
All of these benefits are positive and can add richness to your life. Gaming can cause happiness, excitement, surprise, and laughter. Many are designed to cause feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction.
When used in conjunction with other hobbies, activities, and responsibilities, gaming can help lift your mood and relieve stress healthily. However, becoming dependent on gaming to provide these positive feelings and emotions can lead to long-lasting problems.
Relying on gaming to manage your emotions can cause dissatisfaction and depression in other aspects of your life. Other activities may become uninteresting or not cause as much joy as before. You might find yourself unable to feel happy or even emotionally okay until you have spent time immersed in a game.
Suppose you find yourself unhappy during every aspect of your life except gaming. In that case, it may be time to speak to a professional to determine whether you are experiencing depression, trauma-related symptoms, physical illness, etc.
A professional can help you understand why gaming is the only thing that brings you joy. In the meantime, you can try a ‘gaming’ fast to reset your dopamine receptors. This could help allow your brain to find joy in everyday activities again.
10. Spending Too Much Money on Gaming-Related Expenses
Society sees gambling and excessive spending as valid addictions. It might not seem obvious that gambling and spending too much money are common in gaming. Spending far too much money on games can indicate a severe problem.
Many games are designed to make you spend money. Even games that are free upfront can offer attractive and beneficial in-game options, like outfits or weapon customization. If you spend a lot of time playing games, you might purchase more games than you can reasonably afford.
It can be easy to go into debt by spending too much money on gaming or gaming-related expenses, especially when upgrading to powerful PCs, monitors, and consoles.
If you find yourself spending too much money on gaming, it can act similar to gambling or spending addictions. A mental health professional can help you address this problem.
Overall, video games can be a fun and healthy hobby. However, there are many signs that can tell you that you have a problem with video games. If you spend too much time on games and find yourself irritable, spending too much money, unhappy when you’re not playing, neglecting responsibilities or health, or more, you might have a problem with video games.
If you are showing any of these signs, take time to examine your relationship with video games.