Understanding How Gaming Addiction is Affecting Millions

Updated July 20th, 2019 by Headshot Jacob Tuwiner

Video games are a fun way to pass the time. They’re like reading a book that takes you to another world, but you’re in control.

They’re like an escape from reality – and that’s the problem.

Video games are designed to be addicting.

Think about it:

There’s always another level to beat, another mission to complete, a new item to unlock, a new DLC package to buy… it never ends.

Although video games are harmless for most, they’re detrimental to the lives of those affected by gaming addiction.

What is Video Game Addiction?

Video game addiction is a mental health condition that millions of people worldwide are dealing with right now.

According to the World Health Organization, gaming addiction is:

“a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

It’s real, it’s serious, and it needs to be addressed.

Gaming Addiction Statistics

Although gaming probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “addiction”, it is actually quite a big problem.

video game addiction chart

On Average, Study Participants Played 20 Hours of Video Games a Week

A study conducted by Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D., looked at video game usage among 3,034 children and teenagers from ages 8 to 18 – his findings were alarming, to say the least.

At first, this may not seem like an alarming statistic, but once you put it in perspective, you’ll quickly realize why this is a problem.

average hours playing video games per week chart

If you’re sitting behind your TV, controller in hand for 20 hours every week, that’s 80 hours a month, or 960 hours a year.

That’s the same as 24 full working weeks a year playing video games, assuming one working week is 40 hours.

Let’s say one’s time at that age is worth minimum wage – that’s close to $10,000 a year being wasted playing video games.

But the thing is, your time is really worth more than minimum wage if you apply yourself.

If the same people spending 20 hours a week had spent that time learning a valuable skill or, better yet, starting a business, their time would be worth closer to $50/hr.

That’s $48,000 a year being wasted.

9% of Study Participants Showed Signs of Video Game Addiction

In the study, nearly 1 in 10 participants showed signs of addiction to video games. That’s a pretty large number, especially when you consider that figure in relation to the total number of gamers worldwide.

In a much smaller (and less scientific) poll on GameSpot, nearly 1 in 3 respondents admitted to gaming 4-8 hours a day, with 11% saying they play for more than 8 hours every day.

4% of Study Participants Were Extremely Addicted

Roughly 4% of the study participants were extremely addicted to video games, playing more than 50 hours every week.

It’s important to note, however, that this study only examined approximately 3,000 gamers, aged 8 to 18.

That doesn’t account for the rest of the gamers in that age range, not to mention all of the gamers older than 18.

In total, there will be 2,725,000,000 gamers worldwide by the year 2021 (Source).

4% of that number is 109,000,000 people gaming for 50 hours a week.

Just to be clear, that number isn’t exact – I merely took the percentage of severely addicted gamers in this study and extrapolated the data. In reality, there are (hopefully) fewer people gaming 50 hours/week or more.

Still, it’s safe to say there are millions (if not tens of millions) of severe gaming addicts.

41% of Online Gamers Admit They Use Video Games to Escape Reality

In another study conducted in 2009 (seperate from the first study cited above), 41% of participants admitted to using video games as a way to escape from reality.

Many addicts use drugs and alcohol to numb themselves from reality. They aren’t content with their lives, so they turn to substance abuse for external happiness.

Getting drunk and/or high takes your mind off of reality. You don’t have to think about your problems, or what’s going on in the real world.

They go through withdrawal when they don’t have their drug of choice because their bodies are going back to the reality they were trying to escape.

Of course, comparing a severe alcoholic or a heroin addict to a gamer is pretty extreme – however, there are some clear similarities between the two.

Some gamers play all day long, without a care in the world, because they don’t want to think about their regular day-to-day lives.

They use video games as an escape from the real world.

Alcohol/Drug Addicts Craving Their Next High Use The Same Part of Their Brain as Video Game Addicts

When shown an image of video games, certain regions of the brain are activated in response.

It turns out that they are the same regions that are activated when alcohol and drug addicts are craving their next fix.

You can be addicted to anything, whether it’s a substance or an activity.

This means after spending hours a day playing video games, many gamers also spend hours watching other people play video games.

I had a roommate in college who was addicted to video games. When he wasn’t in class, he was always in our dorm doing one of two things:

  1. Playing video games
  2. Watching other people play video games

Is Gaming Addiction Really a Problem?

Do you think spending hours every day doing something that’s not bettering yourself is a problem?

If yes, then you have your answer.

Video games are fun. They’re designed to stimulate us for hours. They’re created in a way that’s meant to be addicting.

There’s always another quest to complete, another mission to do, another level to beat, another skin to unlock, and another DLC package that comes out.

At the end of the day, spending hours every day in a virtual world takes away from the real world.

People will skip class, not do their homework, cancel plans with friends, stay up all night long for days in a row, miss work, and more just to play.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with playing video games once in a while – but when you’re playing for hours on end every single day and blowing off real-world obligations to do so, you are doing much more harm than good.

Video Game Addiction Symptoms

If you’re wondering whether or not you have an addiction to video games, here are some common symptoms:

  1. Constant captivation with video games: The person constantly thinks about their last time playing video games or when they can play again. Gaming dominates their daily life.
  2. Withdrawal: After the game is taken away and you can’t play anymore, the person becomes irritable, anxious, bored, or sad. They crave playing more, and they can’t wait to turn on their console/gaming PC again.
  3. Higher tolerance: The person needs to spend more and more time playing to get the same feeling of satisfaction.
  4. Inability to quit: The person has tried to quit before because they know they shouldn’t be playing as much, but they just can’t seem to do it.
  5. Loss of interest in other hobbies: The person loses interest in other things they used to like to do. For example, they might give up their sport or quit their job to play more.
  6. Deception: The person has deceived their friends or family, making excuses or lying just to play more.
  7. Escaping reality: The person plays video games to escape feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, or sadness instead of finding a healthier alternative to deal with their problems.

If you find yourself experience any of the symptoms listed above, you may have a problem.

Harmful Effects of Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction is a mental health disorder that can cause tremendous damage to one’s life.

Some common harmful effects of video game addiction include:

  • Gaming for 8+ hours straight
  • Staying up all night long and sacrificing sleep
  • Blowing off friends, school, work, and familial obligations to play
  • Poor diets consisting of energy drinks and other junk food
  • Sedentary lifestyle without exercise or healthy activity
  • Severe addicts report agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder which makes them afraid to leave their house

Gaming addicts are usually moody and irritable when they’re not playing, not to mention depressed and out of shape.

Believe it or not, those struggling with gaming addiction have a hard time in school (sometimes dropping out), they can’t hold down a job, and they have trouble with their relationships.

I’d argue (from experience with both) that video game addiction and marijuana addiction are pretty similar and equally as harmful.

Let me explain:

Marijuana, at least in my experience, can be addictive. It’s not physically addictive in the way that cocaine, alcohol, heroin, and other hard drugs are.

If you’re a severe alcoholic or heroin addict, going through withdrawal will cause you tremendous pain and even death.

On the other hand, you could smoke marijuana every day for ten years, and quit cold turkey without any severe physical side effects.

Sure, you might be cranky or have trouble sleeping, but that’s nothing when compared to the effects of heroin withdrawal.

Still, marijuana – just like video games – is psychologically addictive.

Our brains regulate how much dopamine to produce to keep us at equilibrium. When you smoke marijuana, you’re basically pumping your brain full of artificial dopamine, if you will.

If you’re smoking every day, you’re going to pump your brain full of a lot of artificial pleasure. In order to compensate, your brain will slow down the amount of natural dopamine it produces.

As a result, you’ll need to smoke more to feel the same high, and you’ll also crave marijuana if you try to quit cold turkey.

Think about it:

If you’re sitting in a room by yourself or with a friend for hours doing nothing, you’d probably be pretty bored. But if you’re stoned, you won’t care what you’re doing, because you feel good.

If you sit around high all day, every day, and then you try to stop and you don’t have anything to occupy your time, you’re going to crave that feeling of being high. It will take your mind off of things and you won’t feel bored.

Marijuana, in this instance, is acting as a distraction from reality. I’m not hating on marijuana, but I’m pointing out the fact that it distracts you from reality.

I think video games have the same sort of effect. Just like smoking marijuana, you could play video games every day for five years, and quit cold turkey without any physical side effects.

However, you’d definitely crave video games, especially when you’re not doing anything.

After all, you could either sit around doing nothing, or you could pick up the controller and occupy your mind for hours, right?

When you’re playing video games for hours a day, every day, you’re not doing anything productive.

Sure, you’re leveling up and maybe beating your competition, but that doesn’t translate to anything in the real world.

Smoking marijuana is the same thing – you may think you’re having fun, but at the end of the day, you’re just getting high and eating Cheetos on the couch all day.

It’s not productive – in fact, it’s quite the contrary.

In my opinion, smoking marijuana and playing video games aren’t bad in it of themselves, as long as you don’t do either one of them all the time.

But if you do either one consistently, all the time, and nothing else, it becomes a problem.

Both of them are not productive ways to spend your time, and they can easily become addicting if you have nothing else going for you in life because they take your mind away from reality.

Video Game Addiction Test

If you are concerned about how often you play video games or you’re concerned for a loved one, Game Quitters has a great online assessment you can complete.

game quitters video game addiction test

After finishing the test, they’ll point you in the right direction if you (or your loved one) has an addiction problem.

Video Game Addiction Treatment Options

Since video game addiction is a compulsory behavioral addiction, counseling and behavior modification are two of the best treatment options.

One on one counseling helps addicted gamers address their behavior in a way that motivates them to take the right steps toward recovery.

They’ll need to develop a strategy to fight their compulsions to play.

Family therapy also helps compulsive gaming addicts, as they can address the familial issues that may be contributing to their addiction.

The main goal of these two types of therapy is to help the addicted gamer learn to deal with their addiction properly. It’s important that they know how to replace gaming with positive activities, as opposed to negative ones.

Above all, it’s important to understand why you’re trying to quit in the first place.

If you’re only quitting because someone else is telling you to, it’s not going to work. You need to make the decision for yourself.

Take a step back and ask yourself:

  • Am I really happy playing video games, day in and day out?
  • Have I lied to friends, family, or my employer to play more?
  • Have I allowed video games to get in the way of school or work?
  • Am I healthy, and satisfied with my physique?
  • Have I given up any other hobbies in place of gaming?
  • Do I hang out with my friends in real life, or only online?
  • Do I feel depressed, sad, or upset after gaming for hours every day?

How to Make a Change

Look, odds are if you have a problem, you know it deep down.

Most people don’t like to admit that they have a problem – and I know this may sound a bit cliche – but that’s the first step to recovery.

Once you admit you have an issue, you can make a gameplan to solve it.

Start by thinking about where you are in life now, and where you want to go.

Whatever your goals are – whether it’s making more money, becoming more fit, learning a new language, etc. – you need to make a gameplan to get there.

Now ask yourself this:

Is gaming for hours a day helping me achieve my mission?

Unless you want to be an MLG pro, the answer is probably not. In that case, you need to make a change. Make an actionable plan to make a change.

Jordan Peterson’s self-authoring program is a great way to figure out where you are in life, and where you want to go. It will also help you make a gameplan to get there.

My Experience with Video Game Addiction

I started gaming when I was around 5 years old, but only once in a while at a friend’s house, as I never had my own gaming console.

When I was around 13 years old, my parents got a divorce, and as a way to make me feel better and/or take my mind off of things, my mom bought me an Xbox 360.

I was thrilled – I played for hours a day, every day. Rockband, Guitar Hero, Need for Speed, Call of Duty – you name it, I played it.

As I got older, my addiction got worse.

In high school, I had pretty bad acne and as a result, my self-confidence plummeted. I hated going to school and being out in public, as all I could think about was what others thought of my pimples.

It was pretty hard for me to leave the house – it was at this point that my gaming addiction was at its peak.

If I visited family, I brought my Xbox with me. I would lie to friends telling them I was busy, just so I could play more video games.

I stopped playing basketball like I used to, and I didn’t go outside much anymore.

Playing video games was fun, it passed the time, and best of all, I nobody I was playing with could see my face. I didn’t have to feel self-conscious when I was behind the screen.

I would play for 7-8 hours a day, every day. I would skip school to play, and I’d often stay up all night long, telling myself “I’ll go to bed after one more round”.

Still, after a night of fun with friends online, I’d go to bed feeling quite empty inside. I felt like I’d spent the whole day doing nothing. I felt like I didn’t have real friends, and I felt like a bit of a loser.

Towards the end of high school, my acne started to clear up, and I began to go out once again. I also started working on this website, and I started an online business.

I began to find meaning in other things in life besides video games. Hiking, traveling, adventuring, and blogging now consumes most of my time.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love video games. But the difference now is, I don’t really have time for them anymore. I spend my time doing other things, and now video games are fun once in a while on the side.

I’ve been traveling for the past few months, and I haven’t felt any desire to play any games. When I’m home, I might play an hour or two a week with friends, but nothing more.

The change happened when I found meaning in other parts of my life. I realized what I wanted to do – what would make me truly happy – was growing my online business and traveling around the world.

That’s what I’m doing now, and I’ve never been happier!