By Dr. Brent Conrad
Clinical Psychologist for TechAddiction
TechAddiction is often asked by clients, parents, teachers, and reporters about video game addiction symptoms and signs.
First, a disclaimer:
Video game addiction, just like Internet Addiction, is not an official DSM-IV diagnosis, and in 2007 the American Medical Association rejected a proposal to classify video game addiction as a mental disorder. This was the correct decision, as well conducted research with proper methodology has really only surfaced within the last few years. The development of new gaming and online technologies as well as the corresponding psychological impacts have clearly outpaced the research on these issues.
Will a future version of DSM include video game addiction symptoms? This is a definite possibility. However, in contrast to "pop" psychology, officially recognized providers of psychological services (e.g., psychologists & psychiatrists) and the American Psychiatric Association take a more conservative and methodical approach when considering the official additions of new disorders. Again, this is the proper way to proceed.
So, as you read through the video game addiction symptoms and signs below, keep in mind that (for now) there is no officially recognized disorder known as video game addiction and no definitive set of video game addiction symptoms. The symptoms below are based on working definitions of video game addictions proposed by TechAddiction and others, research in the field of video game addiction, what we already know about other addictions (such as compulsive gambling), and personal work with clients with excessive gaming habits.
Finally, note that no one will display all of these signs of video game addiction. But obviously, a greater number of signs, more frequent occurrences, and more intense presentations would be more indicative of problematic video game habits.
With that out of the way, what are the symptoms of video game addiction?
Video Game Addiction Symptoms and Signs - Psychological Symptoms
Lowered interest in school achievement
Feelings of anger and frustration when not allowed access to the video game
Feeling depressed or anxious when not playing the game (especially for a prolonged period)
Thinking about the next gaming session when not online
Dreaming about the game
Experiencing calmness, peacefulness, or euphoria while playing (especially if these emotions are not experienced otherwise)
Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Downplaying the impact of the excessive habits ("It's not as bad as alcohol addiction")
Justifying excessive use ("Others play more than I do")
Excessive frustration or anxiety when "the server is down"
Distorted perception of time (e.g., suddenly realizing that several hours have passed in what seemed like just one hour)
Feelings of guilt when unable to join clan or guild members on a quest
Difficulty abstaining from video games for more than a few days
Experiencing a loss of personal control while playing
Feelings of guilt or regret after spending much more time than intended with the game
Video Game Addiction Symptoms and Signs - Physical Symptoms
Sleep difficulties or significant change in sleep patterns
Decreased personal hygiene
Poor or irregular eating habits (e.g., waiting until extremely hungry before eating)
Dry or red eyes
Sore fingers, neck, or back
Poor physical health or weight gain
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Video Game Addiction Symptoms and Signs - Behavioral Symptoms
Decreased academic performance (related: see a complete summary of child video game addiction)
Less time spent on homework and studying
Decreased work performance
Aggression towards those who prevent or attempt to limit access to the video game
Frequently playing the game while neglecting important responsibilities
Spending more and more time with the video game
Playing at the first available opportunity (e.g., as soon as getting home from work or school)
An inability to quit despite attempts to do so
Saying up late into the night to play
Eating meals while playing or skipping meals entirely
When not playing, discussing the video game in online forums
Large amounts of money spent on new games, expansion packs, micro-transactions, and computer upgrades
Occasional gaming "binges" of 10 or more hours nonstop
Video Game Addiction Symptoms and Signs - Relational Symptoms
Lying to others about how much time is spent with the game
Declining social invitations so that game playing can continue
Less time spent with family and friends
Increased concern expressed by others at the amount of gaming time
A loss of real world friends, but an increase in virtual world friends
Blaming others ("I would probably play less if you wouldn't nag so much")
Marital / relationship difficulties resulting from excessive play (see "Boyfriend or Husband Addicted to Video Games?")
Decreased interest in sex
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Do you agree with these signs? What others would you add?