I was addicted to video games for seven years.
During those seven years, my gaming addiction sucked the joy out of my life and kept me from learning important social skills. If you suspect that your child (or someone else) is addicted to video games, I’m here – as a former video game addict – to tell you that they need your help.
Before I get into my own story and the different ways you can help, you first need to understand what it means to be addicted to video games.
First, a gaming addiction isn’t reliant on a certain kind of system or even a certain amount of time. An hour a day on a smartphone, tablet, console, or computer is more than enough to have a full-fledged addiction.
Second, your child may be able to play video games for hours at a time without becoming addicted. I have a number of friends who are this way; they can take it or leave it. Video game addicts, on the other hand, aren’t the same. Gaming consumes them.
No matter where they are or who they’re talking to, thoughts about the game pop into their mind:
“When can I play again?”
“Maybe if I try this strategy when I’m gaming again, I can do better.”
“If I leave now, I can have another hour to game.”
The ecstasy they feel from gaming means everything else in life is simply less joyful. When I was addicted to gaming, all of the things I used to enjoy seemed dampened, like a black shroud draped over me, relative to the high I experienced from gaming. It was powerful enough that I would do things like stay downstairs and game for most of Christmas day, which I did one year while the rest of my family spent time upstairs with each other.
Finally, being addicted to video games isn’t reserved for outcasts. This addiction can happen to anyone. At the time of my addiction, I made decent grades, had a number of solid friendships with good kids, and maintained other hobbies.
In short, being addicted to a video game has the ultimate effect of pulling you away from everything good in life, and despite what I would have argued at the time, it was truly a dark period in my life.
Why would anyone get addicted to a video game, of all things? For me, it all came down to self-worth. When I beat someone else in StarCraft, Tribes, Age of Empires II, or any of the other games I was addicted to, I received an instant injection of self-worth. “Wow, I really am pretty good at something.”
I know it might not make complete sense, but, trust me: That is a powerful, powerful message, especially for kids like me who have a strong fear of failure.
Your child might be addicted to video games if they exhibit the following signs:
- Talk about their game(s) incessantly
- Play for hours on end (I played for up to 14 hours a day when possible)
- Get defensive when told about their excessive gaming habit
- Get angry or explosive when made to stop
- Sacrifice basic needs (e.g., sleep) in order to game
- Hide or downplay time spent gaming
- Seem preoccupied, depressed, or lonely
If you’ve determined that your child likely has an addiction, there are a number of ways you can help. You can educate yourself at sites like video-game-addiction.org and On-Line Gamers Anonymous. Once you have reviewed treatment options, such as therapists or wilderness camps, you then have to take the bold step of actually intervening.
The good news is that your child can break the addiction. I’ve been free from my addiction now for nearly a decade, and while it still rears its ugly head every once in a while, it is by-and-large behind me.
Because the intervention process can be very difficult, depending on the seriousness of the addiction, I want to give you some extra motivating factors to follow through with it. Studies are beginning to show that excessive gaming (approximately 3 hours per week) by youths is linked with increased levels of depression, anxiety, and social phobia, all of which can last years into the future.
As a final thought, I’d like to recognize the fact that not all games are bad and not everyone is prone to addiction. My goal here isn’t to demonize gaming as I fully recognize that gaming also brings with it some benefits, like the accepting culture of the gaming community and the cognitive benefits of educational games for children.
But for video game addicts, the dark downsides of their addiction far outweigh any potential benefits. If your child has a video game addiction, please consider helping them break it.