Am I a video game addict?

Am I a video game addict?

Only you can decide.  But if you come to me for therapy, here’s what I’m going to look for.  See how many of the following apply to you.

Preoccupation

If you’re addicted to something, you often spend a lot of time thinking about it in some way when you aren’t doing it. For example, you may be mentally re-living old gaming experiences or planning new ones.  Also, do you modify other aspects of your life so you can play more (rescheduling events, playing on your phone while at other activities, etc.)?

Withdrawal

People who are addicted often experience various kinds of withdrawal symptoms when they stop.    Do you feel restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious or sad when you can’t play or when you try to reduce your play?  Many video game addicts report that their experience of life is “flat,” that unless they are gaming they aren’t motivated to do anything, and don’t find the rest of life interesting.

Here are some other symptoms that self-identified video game addicts have reported:     http://cgaa.info/gaming-withdrawal-symptoms/

Tolerance

Addiction often involves needing more and more of the activity or substance to get the same results.  Here’s a question:  Do you feel the need to play for increasing amounts of time, play more exciting games, or use more powerful equipment to get the same amount of excitement you used to get?

Difficulty reducing or stopping

Sometimes addicts will experience a loss of control over the activity.  They may want to (or feel they should) play less or stop, but they have trouble cutting back or quitting.  If you’ve tried something like this, especially if you’ve tried multiple times, check this box.

Give up other activities

A lot of times, people who have developed an addiction have given up other recreational activities (hobbies, formal or informal social activities) in order to game.  If you are gaming more now than you did in the past, take a moment to think about what things have been replaced.

Continue despite problems

Do you continue to play games even though you are aware of negative consequences, such as not getting enough sleep, being late to school/work, spending too much money, having arguments with others, or neglecting important duties?  This is a big hallmark of addiction.  Most people who find something interfering with their lives try to avoid it.  This is also an aspect of addiction that people who aren’t addicted find most difficult to understand.  “It’s creating all these problems for him, why doesn’t he just stop it?”

Deceive/cover up

This is a tough one, but it’s telling.  Have you ever lied about or tried to hide your gaming in any way?  Ahem.  Be honest.

Escape adverse mood

Most self-identified video game addicts will say that one of the important reasons to play was to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings (such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness or depression)?

Risk/lose relationships/opportunities

Do you risk or lose significant relationships, or job, educational or career opportunities because of gaming?  This one is obvious, but it’s surprising how many people will tell you “yes, but it’s not a problem.”  Some people quit a job or drop classes to game more, and say they’re OK with it.  Well, if you’re OK with it, I’m OK with it, but I’m going to check box anyway.  🙂

So what now?

These kinds of signs are typical of all addictions, by the way, not just video game addiction.  How did you score?  If you’ve only got one or two of these, there may be a problem, but perhaps it’s not too severe (yet).  When you get into the realm of three or four, you’re showing definite signs of addiction.  If we can check five boxes, then we’re looking at the real thing.

And if you don’t like my test, that’s OK. 🙂  Here’s one created by people who identify themselves as gaming addicts.

If after reading all this you think you might have a gaming addiction, you’re probably right.  Most addicts need help to stop (and most need to stop, not just cut down).  That may seem impossible right now.  But there is help available.  You can find support groups online, in churches and through community mental health agencies.  You should probably also get a therapist.  If you’re in Colorado Springs, please feel free to call me.  If not, but you do want help, send me an email.  Recovery is challenging, but it’s possible.

https://www.rehabs.com/about/video-game-addiction-rehabs/

cgaa.info

More information on video game addiction

How Addiction Works

Engineering Addiction

I’ve got a background in math and science, as well as education and counseling.  So when I get to thinking about how addiction works, I tend to think about it nerdistically (OK, not a word, but you get it). I ask questions like “what holds it in place, what feeds it, what keeps it going?” This is especially interesting because addiction, any addiction, is so damaging.  Why would someone keep doing something that is harming them?  To answer this, we need to reverse engineer addiction.  We have to talk about feedback loops.

Self-reinforcing loops

A feedback loop is a bunch of things that impact each other.  The amount of food in the refrigerator impacts whether or not I go to the grocery store, and how much I buy there.  Then, the amount I buy changes what’s in the refrigerator.  A simple feedback loop.

There are two major kinds of feedback loops:  self-moderating (negative) loops and self-reinforcing (positive) loops.  In this case the positive feedback ones are the bad ones, and the negative ones are good.  The example in the previous paragraph is a self-moderating loop—the more food I have, the less I buy.  So the amount of food in my refrigerator is unlikely to become too large or too small—if I have too much, I won’t buy more.  If I don’t have enough, I’ll buy some.  It naturally keeps itself in balance.

Self-reinforcing loops are the bad ones.  They spiral out of control, like a rock rolling down a hill.  The farther it goes, the faster it goes, and the faster it goes, the farther It will go.  Once it starts, as long as it’s still going down the hill, it’s going to go faster and faster.  It doesn’t stop until there’s no more hill.

How addiction works: a vicious cycle

Addiction is a self-reinforcing cycle.  It almost always starts with an activity that can relieve distress.  And it’s usually an activity that can provide a lot of relief.  However (and this is the kicker), it creates more distress in the long term.  This may be because one gets used to it and needs more for the same relief, or because the activity causes longer term problems in life that create more distress (often it’s both of these).

Here’s the cycle:  I need relief, I use, which gives me short term relief and makes my brain want to use more, but it also creates more long-term distress, which means I need even more relief, which also makes me want to use more.  The cycle builds.  The rock rolls down the hill.  See the graphic on this page for an example of a cycle that feeds video game addiction.

The point

In order to address addiction, we need to use what we know about how addiction works.  We have to look at the self-reinforcing cycle.  First, the cycle has to be interrupted.  That’s hard.  But that’s not enough.  Some of the fundamentals have to be changed.  The addicted person has to begin to get relief in a different way.  They need to rebuild their life.  In other words, the cycle has to then be dismantled.  And usually there is more than one cycle to deal with. It requires a big transformation.  We have to bring a lot of firepower to bear on the problem.

How all this is done is the business of recovery.  We’ll talk about that more in later posts.

About clinical hypnosis

I thought I’d write a few FAQ’s and responses on clinical hypnosis, because it’s something that most people don’t have experience with, and it’s important for people to know how I use it.

What is clinical hypnosis? Clinical hypnosis is hypnosis that is used in therapy. It’s that simple. Like everything used in therapy, it’s supposed to help. It’s important that hypnosis be used ethically and appropriately, so as to help.

I’ve seen hypnosis performances before. How can that kind of thing help in therapy? Well, it pretty much can’t. Stage hypnosis is quite different from clinical hypnosis, and it’s easy to get some mistaken impressions from it (in my view). One example: hypnosis is not about a loss of control. People don’t do things they really don’t want to do in hypnosis. The people who are quacking like a duck volunteered because they were willing to try something and they don’t mind quacking!

So if I’m really in control, what’s so different about hypnosis? Well, in hypnosis you go into a trance. That sounds eerie, but it’s not. Most of us go in and out of trance quite a few times a day. When you are driving somewhere and you get there without a scratch on the car but can’t remember most of the trip, that’s because you were in a trance. A trance is simply a state where your attention is very highly focused on some things and ignoring other things (even if another part of your mind is working on those other things!). It happens all the time. In clinical hypnosis, we work with you to focus on some aspects of your internal or subconscious experience, in order to make them more vivid or more accessible.

So how do you use hypnosis? I don’t want you poking around in my unconscious mind! I use a form of hypnosis called Ericksonian hypnosis. We don’t use hypnosis to look at traumatic experiences or even negative ones. I use it to help people focus more intensely on their resources. Resources can be positive memories or beliefs, positive expectations, your capacities for growth or change, etc. The goal is for you to have more control and increased ability to help yourself. I don’t use hypnosis to “poke around.” If we go after negative “stuff” in therapy, we go after it differently.

How can hypnosis help? Hypnosis can be used to address many things like anxiety, lack of confidence, desired lifestyle changes, even physical pain. As humans, we have immense resources. It’s just a matter of getting in touch with them and using them.

I still don’t know if I want to use hypnosis in therapy. Can I still work with you? Yes. I don’t use anything in therapy that you don’t want me to use. Therapy is about helping you, and you are the one who has the final say regarding our work. There are many effective ways to work in therapy, and we’ll use those you are comfortable with.

The impact of childhood trauma

I’ve worked with a lot of people with addiction (and I’ve struggled with addiction myself).   At some point I realized that among the people I knew well with addiction, the only ones who hadn’t told me about awful things that happened to them as children were the ones who hadn’t told me anything about their childhood.  That thought got me interested in childhood trauma, and I began reading and trying to learn more, as well as listening (which I’d already been doing).  I then ran across the ACE Study.

ACE Study

ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences.  This study took the medical records of over 17,000 people and correlated them with the results of a survey.  The survey asked them questions about negative things that may have happened to them as children.  The negative things were actually categories of things.  They involved physical, verbal or sexual abuse, neglect, divorce, having a parent die, seeing your mother struck, living with a person who had a mental illness or substance abuse problem or who became incarcerated.  They counted how many categories (of the 10) that each person had experienced.  Then they looked at the medical records.

The results were a bit stunning.  The main finding was that higher the person’s ACE score, the more at risk they were for developing a host of physical and psychological problems as adults.   That’s right, physical problems.  Not only were the folks with higher scores more likely to fall into addiction, anxiety or depression, they were also more likely to develop heart disease and obesity.  Now, this data has been looked at very closely and many research papers have been written about it.  Problem after problem, condition after condition, including antisocial behavior–all are more likely to befall people who had painful and awful things happen to them as children.  It’s pretty shocking.

It’s also terribly unfair.  Unfortunately, we all often participate in making it more unfair.  Every time we think that addiction or overeating is about willpower, every time that we assume heart disease is all about diet, we are neglecting one major thing that (for many people) can cause or worsen all of them:  adverse childhood experiences.  Trauma and loss.  Bad stuff.

What to do?

We go to doctors to get better, to feel better, and they often give us pills.  Not just pills for heart disease, but pills for anxiety and depression and many other things.  But there’s often a missing piece–the unacknowledged and untreated pain and damage created a long time ago.  If there was ever an argument for the need for trauma treatment, this study is it.   (I’m not at all putting down the good work doctors do–and I should note that the principle investigator on the ACE study is a medical doctor.  Many of us get significant help through medical treatment.  But many of us also need more than that.)

Of course, not every child has a high ACE score.  But a lot of us have a few, and a few of us have a lot.  The impact of childhood trauma is something we should acknowledge, something we should look at.  It’s something we should try to address.

A Personal Story

How to do that?  Well, we can start by not blaming children for what happens to them.  Years ago, I was teaching high school, and I had a student who “gave me a lot of trouble.”  I sent him to the office a lot.  Over and over.  Then one day I was talking with the assistant principal about him, and I found out what had happened.  My student, 16, and his 15 year old brother had been abandoned by their parents.  Just left.  They were living with their 19-year old brother who was working and trying to keep it all together so his brothers could stay in school.  How’s that for an adverse childhood experience?  After I learned that, I had a bit of a different attitude about my student.  I started trying to connect with him a little more.  I was young and didn’t know a lot about how to do that, but it was something.  So things went a bit better after that.  I didn’t just stop enforcing rules, and he didn’t completely stop breaking them, but things got better.

If you want to find your ACE score and read about the study, there’s a great website here.

We’ll keep talking about this problem.  And about what can be done to address it.

 

 

Childhood Trauma

What is complex childhood trauma?

Childhood usually involves a few traumatic events: accidents or injuries, unintended separations, grief over minor losses, etc. Events such as these can have some long-term impacts, but often they don’t. However, some children experience things that are usually more serious: divorce, death of a parent, ongoing abuse or neglect, a parent with addiction or mental health problems, etc. These usually involve a disruption or difficulty with an important relationship. In these cases, we talk about complex childhood trauma (or developmental trauma). [Look forward to my talking about this regularly in later posts.]

Impacts

It turns out that these kinds of events or situations can have very damaging long-term impacts on a person’s health. They can increase your chances of developing things like heart disease, obesity and other physical problems as well as mental health issues like depression, anxiety or addiction. [More about the research on this.] In other words, some childhood events can create many different ongoing difficulties. Many people are unaware of this connection, including some in the health fields.

Why is this connection important? For a simple reason: treating the wrong health condition doesn’t always help. If you go to the doctor for a broken arm and she gives you antibiotics, well, your arm won’t get infected, but it also won’t heal correctly. This can happen in therapy. A person will try to get help for depression or anxiety, and they may get medication for it (which can be helpful) and may get some therapy or counseling to gain some coping strategies (which is also helpful). But if the underlying cause is childhood trauma, and that doesn’t get treated, problems often persist.

Treatment

Some people say, “well, you can’t change the past, so you might as well figure out how to live with it.” In my view, that’s both true and false. It’s true that we can’t change past events, and we can’t change the way we reacted at the time, or the effects it has had up to now. But there is a lot more that can be done than just “learning to live with it.” It turns out that we can actually change what has happened in our bodies as a result of trauma.

Our bodies? That sounds weird. But let’s think about it carefully. Heart disease happens in the body. Depression affects the brain and the chemistry of the blood. Anxiety is mostly physical—heart and thoughts racing, tightness in the chest, shaking, sweating.   And most PTSD symptoms are things we can’t consciously control—flashbacks, feelings of unreality, fear, hopelessness, intrusive thoughts about the situation, etc.

Working with the body

For this reason, many of the modern, cutting-edge approaches to trauma treatment are based in the body (we say they are “somatic”).   Things such as EMDR, Yoga, acupuncture and massage all have been found to be helpful. I work with a somatic trauma therapy called Trauma Dynamics. It targets the effects that events and situations have had on our nervous systems, particularly the parts we can’t control. This somatic PTSD therapy is only a few decades old, and is still developing. But there is evidence that it’s extremely powerful, even in cases of complex childhood trauma.

So it turns out that healing is possible. We can’t change the past, but we can change the effects it has had on us. That’s good, good news for everyone.

Video Game Addiction

Video games are everywhere, and most people play some of them, perhaps a lot of them.  Unfortunately, there are a few people who become badly addicted to them.  Any highly stimulating or pleasurable activity can become an addiction, it turns out.   But many people say “Really?  Are you kidding me?  Addiction is something like heroin use, or abusing prescription drugs.  You can’t have a video game addiction!”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of research that says otherwise.  In every country where it has been studied, a small percentage of the people who play regularly (perhaps 2-8%) are seriously addicted. (We’ll talk about what that looks like in a moment.)  There are many others who play a lot, but are not addicted.  Most people are not addicted to video games, or else they have an problem that is fairly mild.   Perhaps they play a bit too much, perhaps they would be better off if they played a bit less.  But that’s not what we mean by addiction.

Video game addiction involves most of the classic signs of addiction that are found in other addictions, like substance abuse and gambling:  Use increases over time, people enjoy it less, there is a loss of control over how much and when one plays, it’s used for escape or to modify a negative mood, and there are serious withdrawal symptoms, failed attempts to cut back or stop, etc.  Some of the research papers below provide more information.  If you’re wondering about yourself, here’s a self-test.

How bad does it get?  Well, the problems caused by excessive gaming can be mild or severe.  For some people, they are just a bit withdrawn from friendships or other activities; perhaps it occasionally or often interferes with sleep.  But in the worst cases, people lose jobs, careers, relationships and/or fail out of school.  And they end up playing perhaps 6-10 (or even many more) hours per day, almost every day, and isolate from most other activities and relationships.  When it gets to this point, it’s bad.  As bad as compulsive gambling, or in many ways as bad as abusing drugs.

What can be done?  Well, as with any addiction, people need support.  Most of us seem to understand that if you’re an alcoholic, you can’t drink.  So we should give those who are struggling to stay off games (and there are some, just about everywhere) the same courtesy:  a bit of support and understanding.  Therapy can be very helpful in cases of addiction–and there are often other mental health issues lying around that need to be addressed as well.  But by itself, it’s rarely enough.  So support or recovery groups, family and friends, changing habits to be more balanced and healthy–all of these things play a role.  It takes a village to help someone who has a severe addiction get well.   We can all play a part.

Resources:

Video Game Addiction Symptoms, Causes and Effects

Twenty Questions for Video Gaming Addiction | Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous

A Brief Overview of Internet Gaming Disorder and its Treatment