Over 20 million Americans have an addiction. For some, it’s an addiction to dangerous substances like drugs and alcohol. Others suffer from behavioral addictions like extreme sports (adrenaline junkie), shopping (retail therapy), and playing video games. It’s this last addiction that we’ll address today.
Out of the world’s 2 billion gamers, about 10% admit they have an addiction. Internet Gaming Disorder was recently added to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5, a manual used to diagnose, treat, and research mental disorders. Gaming is considered a behavioral addiction similar to gambling and sex addiction.
Are you wondering how an innocent pastime like playing video games with friends could turn into an unhealthy obsession? Here we’ll discuss how to prevent Internet Gaming Disorder, including insight on why it’s so easy for some gamers to fall victim to this condition.
Why People Become Addicted to Video Games
You might be wondering how and why people become addicted to video games. After all, it’s just a game, right? Well, for some people, video games become an outlet for their emotions and quickly take precedence over all other things in their life including work, school, family, and other responsibilities.
Those suffering from depression or who struggle with socializing find an outlet in online gaming communities. Here, they can safely meet, play, and interact with other like-minded gamers. While this might seem like a positive thing, over time, some gamers lose the ability to communicate effectively face-to-face. They may also feel isolated from the outside world and damage both personal and professional relationships.
Similar to drugs and alcohol, playing video games causes a chemical reaction in the brain. As gamers unlock new levels, win battles, and achieve other accomplishments, their brain releases dopamine, creating feelings of happiness and relaxation. Now, your mind and body associate gaming with feeling good. While, alone, this isn’t harmful, for those who are depressed or seeking an outlet for their stress or anxiety, this dopamine release becomes addicting. And just like other substances, your body will soon develop immunity to it and will require more gaming to achieve that same level of pleasure.
If any of the above scenarios describe you or the reason you play video games, don’t be alarmed. There’s no guarantee that you’ll develop an addiction. But, it’s always good to be prepared, which is why you should keep reading to discover tips and tricks for preventing video game addiction.
1. Set Healthy Limits and Boundaries
When it comes to preventing video game addiction, you need to be your own advocate. Monitor your gaming to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand. Start by setting a timer. Limit yourself to only playing for a certain period of time per day. There’s no right answer as to how much time you should spend playing video games. For some people, an hour is too much, whereas other people can play for several hours a day without a problem.
The biggest determining factor (and question to ask yourself) is, “Are video games interfering with my life?” A few ways that gaming can negatively affect your daily life include:
- Missed assignments, deadlines, and meetings at work or school
- Showing up late to work or school or calling out sick
- Neglecting other personal responsibilities including friends, family, and finances
If any of these describes you, it may be time to take preventative measures to avoid video game addiction.
Start by setting a timer to first see how long you spend playing video games. Some gamers don’t even realize they’re playing for hours on end. Once you get a handle on how often you play, set a time limit or boundaries to help reduce this timeframe. For example, if you currently play for 3 hours per day, try setting a timer that limits you to just four 30-minute sessions. Once you accomplish this, you can reduce that number even more.
Even if you’re not trying to cut back on gaming, you may want to set a healthy time limit to prevent your habit from getting out of hand. Don’t let yourself play video games before work or school and only play at night for an hour after dinner. You don’t have to stick to this exact schedule, but having healthy boundaries is a good way to keep your video gaming habit under control.
2. Find Other Hobbies and Activities
If you’re using video games as a way to destress, meet friends, and have fun, you need to incorporate other activities into your daily routine. Doing so will not only diversify your personality and skills but prevent you from relying solely on video games for pleasure.
Physical activities are one of the best hobbies to adopt. Not only do they offer mental clarity and reduced stress, but they’re also good for your physical health and wellbeing. Things like golf, hiking, swimming, and bike riding are popular choices for those who enjoy the outdoors. Yoga is growing in popularity thanks to its numerous mental and physical health benefits.
Not all hobbies have to be sports or fitness-related (although you should incorporate exercise and movement into your daily routine). Try a new craft like painting or pottery. Join a book club or volunteer at a local school or library. Find other ways to not only occupy your time but help you feel accomplished. Playing video games can still be one of your favorite pastimes, but it shouldn’t be your ONLY one.
3. Keep Your Gaming Equipment Out of the Bedroom
There’s a lot to be said about adopting a healthy sleep routine. Lack of sleep can lead to a long list of health problems including weight gain, cognitive decline, headaches, and irritability. Research shows that the blue light from screens including televisions, smartphones, and laptops, interrupts your brain’s ability to naturally produce melatonin — the chemical that helps prepare your mind and body for sleep.
By keeping your gaming console, computer, and even your phone, out of reach in the bedroom, you’ll not only improve your sleep patterns but also reduce your risk of developing an addiction. Think of it this way — recovering alcoholics don’t keep alcohol readily available in the house. The same can be said for gaming addicts. Even if you don’t consider yourself a video game addict, having your console or gaming setup close by makes it much easier to play for hours on end without interruption.
Some people even go as far as asking a trusted friend to hide their controllers or keyboard when their gaming habit starts to spiral out of control. Try setting up your console in the living room or den that’s shared with other family members or roommates. This way, you have to share the space and TV equipment. It won’t be as easy for you to play video games 24/7 or whenever the mood strikes you. This can help wean you off of video games and force you to take interest in other activities.
4. Listen to Concerned Friends and Family
It’s often difficult for us to see our own shortcomings. It usually takes an outsider pointing out there’s a problem for addicts (or almost addicts) to take a step back and evaluate their behavior. It’s also common for addicts to act defensively when a loved one broaches the subject. This is completely normal, but it’s important to remember that the person in your life has good intentions and is coming from a place of love and concern.
If your family or friends have mentioned your gaming habit, it probably means they see something you don’t. Pay attention when loved ones comment that they miss you or feel like you’re choosing video games over them. They may even mention changes in your mood or personality. While these are difficult things to hear, try taking them to heart. If friends and family are noticing changes in your behavior or gaming habits, chances are, you’re at risk of developing an addiction.
Instead of getting defensive or offended, try to listen to what they have to say. It may be time to step back and take a cold, hard look at your recent behaviors. Are the things they’re saying true? You may not realize that you’re letting video games take control of your life, but others will. Stay calm and try listening to them. Telling a loved one you think they might have a problem isn’t easy, so this is likely as hard for them to say as it is for you to hear.
5. Recognize the Signs of Gaming Addiction
The best offense against video game addiction is a good defense. That means knowing and recognizing the warning signs of gaming addiction. Here are a few signs and symptoms associated with video game addiction:
- Neck and back pain from too many hours spent gaming
- Weight gain from lack of physical activity and changes in eating habits
- Insomnia or trouble sleeping
- Strained relationships (both personal and professional)
- Increased debt from spending money on video games or losing your job
- Increased isolation or depression
- Skirting major responsibilities at work, school, and home
Not all gaming addicts will exhibit the same signs or symptoms. When you know what to look for, you can take the necessary measures to stop gaming addiction in its tracks. This includes finding help and resources for battling your addiction. Online treatment programs are ideal for those who wish to remain anonymous or want to take preventative measures that don’t involve expensive therapy sessions or traveling.
Don’t Let Gaming Addiction Rule Your Life
Video games are a popular pastime for people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. They’re a form of harmless entertainment that lets you fantasize, meet other like-minded gamers, and destress. But what happens when this harmless hobby takes on a life of its own?
For millions of people, what once was an innocent hobby has now become a destructive obsession that’s negatively impacting their life. Don’t let this be you! By recognizing and preventing gaming addiction, you can save yourself and your loved ones a lot of heartaches.
By monitoring your playing time and implementing other healthy measures, you can still enjoy video games without the risk of developing a harmful addiction.