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.


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.)?


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:


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.

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.

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.


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