Gaming Addiction

Gaming addiction, also known as gaming disorder, video game addiction (VGA), and computer game addiction, is a relatively new form of addiction that has sparked ongoing debates within the medical community. Despite uncertainties about its official classification, gaming addiction has adversely affected many individuals in recent years, leading to an increasing number of people seeking treatment globally, including in the UK.

What is gaming addiction?

Gaming addiction occurs when an individual is unable to control their video game habit. This might mean that they prioritise gaming over other activities to the point where it becomes more important than daily responsibilities. Because of this neglect, a gaming addiction can negatively impact an individual’s personal, familial, and social life.

Video game addiction is more likely to affect males than females, but ultimately, anyone can develop a gaming addiction.

Here are a few general signs of gaming addiction to look out for:

  • Poor performance in school or work
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not playing
  • A need to spend increasingly more time playing to achieve satisfaction
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • The use of gaming as an escape from real-life problems or to relieve negative moods

Long-term symptoms of gaming addiction

Symptoms of gaming addiction are not just related to the amount of time an individual spends playing games. Longer-term symptoms involve radical changes in behaviour, emotional state and social functioning. Alongside the general symptoms already mentioned, we will explore a few more below:

Behavioural symptoms
Excessive time spent gaming: One of the most obvious symptoms is spending too much time playing video games, often at the expense of other activities and responsibilities.


Loss of interest in other activities: Individuals may lose interest in hobbies, activities, and social engagements they once enjoyed, prioritising gaming over all other pursuits.


Continuation despite negative consequences: Even when facing negative outcomes like bad relationships, poor academic or job performance, or financial issues, individuals might continue obsessive gaming.

Emotional symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms: When unable to play, individuals may feel irritable, anxious, sad, or even physically uncomfortable, similar to withdrawal symptoms seen in substance use disorders.


Mood modification: Gaming is often used as a means to escape negative moods or stress, leading to a reliance on gaming for emotional regulation.

Social symptoms
Isolation: As gaming becomes more consuming, individuals might isolate themselves from family and friends to spend more time gaming, leading to social withdrawal.


Conflict: Gaming addiction can cause conflicts with loved ones, employers, and educators due to the excessive time and priority given to gaming over responsibilities and relationships.

Cognitive symptoms
Preoccupation with gaming: Constantly thinking about past gaming experiences or anticipating the next gaming session can dominate an individual’s thoughts, making it hard to focus on anything else.
Physical symptoms
Neglect of Personal hygiene: A decline in personal grooming and hygiene due to prolonged gaming sessions is also a common symptom.


Sleep disturbances: Alterations in sleep patterns, including insufficient sleep due to late-night gaming sessions, can affect overall health.

Who is at risk for gaming addiction?

Identifying those at risk for gaming addiction is very important for prevention and early intervention.

Behavioural traits that are more likely to lead to gaming addiction

Individuals who have certain traits are more likely to develop a gaming addiction than others.

These traits include:

  • Low self-control
  • Impulsivity
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger issues
  • Neuroticism

These factors make it harder for these individuals to regulate their gaming habits.

Behavioural risk factors

There are also specific gaming-related risk factors that make it more likely for an individual who enjoys video games as a casual hobby to develop an addiction.

Here are some of them:

  • Individuals who spend an increasing amount of time and money on gaming
  • Those who attend offline gaming community meetings
  • Those with a gaming community membership

The most vulnerable individuals

Individuals with ADHD: People with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are at a higher risk for problematic gaming and video game addiction. The impulsivity and difficulty with focus linked to ADHD are likely to make a gaming addiction more persistent and difficult to treat.

Gamers of Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs): Those who engage in massive multiplayer online role-playing games are more susceptible to gaming addiction. The ongoing, never-finished nature of these games encourages continuous play to advance the story, significantly increasing the risk of addiction.

Causes of gaming addiction

The causes of gaming addiction involve a mix of psychological, social, and neurobiological factors.

Psychological factors

1. Dopamine release: Just like other types of addiction, playing games triggers dopamine in the brain. This means that individuals start to associate gaming – and only gaming – with pleasure and reward. This makes other forms of enjoyment less exciting and interesting. In turn, the individual then looks to gaming more and more for pleasure and excitement.

2. Escapism: Gaming provides an escape from reality or a way to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. This escapism can become problematic when gaming is used as the primary method for dealing with negative emotions or stressful situations.

3. Social reinforcement: Online gaming often involves interacting with other players, which can fulfil social needs, especially for individuals who feel isolated or have difficulty forming connections in the real world. The positive reinforcement from these social interactions within the gaming environment can contribute to excessive gaming.

4. Achievement and reward systems: Video games are almost always designed with integrated rewards systems and levels of achievement that mimic real life. It is a risk-free, virtual way of feeling a sense of accomplishment and reward. This pursuit can become a compulsive habit that replaces real-life responsibilities and interests.

Social factors

1. Peer influence: Peer groups can have a severe impact on gaming behaviour, especially among teenagers and young adults. The desire to fit in, compete with, or gain acceptance from peers within the gaming community can drive individuals to spend excessive amounts of time gaming.

2. Cultural norms: In some cultures, gaming is very prevalent and socially accepted, if not encouraged. This cultural acceptance can normalise excessive gaming, making it more difficult for individuals to recognize when their gaming habits have become problematic.

Neurobiological factors

1. Genetic predisposition: There is certainly a genetic component to addictive behaviours, including gaming addiction. Individuals with a family history of addiction may be more likely to develop gaming addiction due to inherited traits that affect the brain’s reward system.


Treating gaming addiction involves a focus on psychology and finding the root cause of an addiction. Psychotherapy is generally the most effective way of identifying and eliminating habits that lead to the development of gaming addiction.

There are numerous types of psychotherapy. Here are the ones most relevant to treating a gaming addiction:

1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT):

Function: Teaches ways to spot and then change negative thought patterns and behaviours linked to obsessive gaming. Includes methods such as problem-solving and setting goals to control gaming habits.

Benefit: Helps individuals develop healthier ways of coping with stress and triggers that lead to gaming addiction, improving overall functioning and reducing the urge to game excessively.

2. Exposure therapy (Part of CBT):

Function: Involves gradual exposure to gaming-related cues without engaging in gaming, reducing the anxiety and compulsive need associated with gaming triggers.

Involves gradual and incremental exposure to gaming-related ideas/cues without engaging in gaming. Over time, the goal is to reduce the anxiety and compulsive need linked to gaming triggers.

Benefit: Helps lessen the psychological impact of triggers that lead to gaming addiction, enabling individuals to gain control over their gaming habits.

3. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT):

Function: Combines mindfulness strategies with the commitment to change behaviour, focusing on accepting one’s feelings and thoughts without being controlled by them.

Benefit: Encourages individuals to pursue meaningful activities aligned with their values, reducing reliance on gaming as a coping mechanism and fostering a more balanced lifestyle.

Ready for help?

Addiction can damage self-esteem and destroy any sense of control. If gaming addiction has impacted your past, don’t let it determine your future. Help is available through a number of high-quality facilities in the UK.

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