There has been quite a bit of controversial press regarding internet addiction and video game addiction. More research is showing that people can become addicted to internet gaming. The new DSM-5 (diagnostic manual for psychiatrists) was unveiled this past May and it has Internet Gaming Disorder as a condition that requires more research, before it can be added as a disorder that can be diagnosed. Here is a link to Internet Gaming Disorder on the DSM-5 website. If more research is done, this condition may very well become a diagnosis in the next revision of the DSM.
Some professionals in the field feel that internet addiction or gaming addiction is a fad and not a real phenomenon. Having worked with adolescents and young adults, I have seen my share of internet use issues. Some were just issues and were easily remedied, others were fitting the addictive pattern of behavior. If this was a diagnosable condition, many professionals working with this population would be using it as a primary or secondary diagnosis.
Like any addiction, when the use of the internet starts to impede your life functioning, you have a problem. Some people report playing internet games as a stress reliever, a way to unwind at the end of a work/school day, or a way to escape from their life and the reality they face every day. Some people enjoy the fantasy world much more than reality. Some symptoms of internet addiction include; declining grades (students), increased use, social isolation and/or less social interaction, lying about use, feeling anxious when unable to use or are away from your computer as well as difficulty controlling anger and frustration.
There is usually an underlying issue as to why you are using the internet so frequently. Risk factors include; anxiety, depression, stress, unhappiness and lack of social support. If you have an addiction, you are more prone to developing other addictive behaviors. This does not mean that if you are addicted to one thing you will automatically become addicted to everything. Here are some things you can do if you or a loved one is spending too much time gaming:
1. Recognition: Recognizing this is a problem. If you do not realize that this is impeding your life functioning, you will not be able to move forward and will continue down the path of internet addiction.
2. Insight: Address underlying issues so that you will be less likely to relapse when you stop gaming.
3. Triggers: Figure out your triggers and if there is a pattern to your gaming. If so, develop a plan around those times/issues to help you continue with abstinence or decrease in gaming.
4. Stopping Use: Some people find it difficult to completely stop use right away. If abstinence is not working, use it in moderation. Set up a schedule of specific times you can game. Each week decrease the amount of time gaming as you increase coping strategies.
5. Increase coping strategies: Find other ways to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression etc. Start an exercise program, meditate or sign up for some type of lesson.
6. Support System: Increase your support system and reach out to those in your support system. Participating in a hobby is a good way to meet people and increase your support system. Volunteering is a way to give back and meet people you may not ordinarily meet.
If you find that stopping internet gaming is an overwhelming and daunting task, seek professional help. A psychologist or mental health professional can assist you with a treatment plan, provide support and address underlying mental health issues.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a replacement for treatment or therapy.
Dr. Deb is a successful Psychologist who practices in New York City. She is an Anxiety Specialist who works with adolescents and adults providing both individual and couples counseling.