When a gamer learns about video game addiction, the first question that comes to their mind is, “How do I stop playing video games?”
There are three ways to stop playing video games:
However, for these strategies to be effective, it is essential to understand how video games affect your brain and behavior. Let’s try to understand this.
One of the biggest mistakes we make when we realize we have an addiction is to try to drop the vice entirely. However, that does not go very well. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 90% of alcoholics will have at least one relapse during the first four years after they get sober. Unlike video games, alcohol creates a biological addiction. However, video game addiction statistics are somewhat similar. More research needs to be done to estimate how often gamers relapse.
Simply putting an end to your gaming habit will not necessarily fix your life. However, you have a better chance of having a healthy relationship with video games if you figure out why you play video games. If you understand what needs video games fulfill, you will be able to find other ways to satisfy those needs.
If you want to learn more about video game addiction, its signs, symptoms, causes, the effect on a gamer’s life, how to stop playing video games, how to wean your child off video games, whether games cause violence or make you smarter, then the Comprehensive Guide to Video Game Addiction might be of use to you. Click here to read the complete guide on video game addiction.
What happens if you try to quit video games? You can maybe take a day or two of no gaming. However, eventually, you want to get back to playing again. That is because video games change your brain in a few fundamental ways. It is crucial to understand how video games affect your brain if you want to control your gaming habit.
You can drop gaming altogether. While this is the least effective strategy to overcome video game addiction, it does work for some people. However, this has a low success rate because of the way gaming affects our brains.
Instead of trying to quit gaming altogether, try to do a dopamine detox. A dopamine detox is an exercise to deprive yourself of activities that are too stimulating and fun. Delete all social media applications from your phone, uninstall all your games, and disconnect your computer and keep it somewhere that is not easily accessible.
Before starting the dopamine fast, try to find other activities to do. Try picking up a skill that involves creating something physical. Try learning a new instrument. Pick up a sport, or start a new exercise routine. Try to spend more time in nature – go for a hike or a run. You can even try to start meditating and cultivating more internal awareness. If you can come to terms with the reason you play video games in the first place, it will be easier to find ways to avoid gaming.
Dopamine detoxes are the most effective when done with someone. Have a friend do it with you. You can check in with each other for fifteen minutes a day and hold each other accountable.
It typically takes the brain about two weeks to reset itself to normal dopamine levels. If you successfully abstain for two weeks, congratulations! After this, not only will video games feel more fun, but you might also have found other activities to enjoy. However, be careful. Gaming might have served as a coping mechanism for you, and if you have not found a way to address the cause of these urges, then it is likely that you will relapse.
You can watch Dr. K’s thoughts on quitting cold turkey here:
Nobody will blame you if you feel you cannot quit gaming in one go. Many people rely on gaming as a coping mechanism for negative emotions, a sense of community, and a way to de-stress.
It is easier to reduce the time spent gaming than to try to quit gaming in one go. Here is an example plan that you can follow. However, feel free to modify this to suit your pace and needs.
Over six months, you could try increasing the time you don’t spend gaming from 10 hours a day to 5 hours a day. That is a significant improvement. Those are 5 hours in the day spent on productive activities. If you spent those hours learning new skills or pursuing your goals, that would significantly improve your confidence and quality of life.
Check out this video to learn more about dopamine reward circuitry:
It could also be valuable to see a mental health professional. Think of it as a buff — it would increase the rate at which you could overcome your video game addiction. A therapist could help you identify and work on the underlying issues that drive your gaming habit.
If you would like to learn about different mental health resources, including the Healthy Gamer Coaching program, click here.
In addiction psychiatry, it is not sufficient to simply stop using the substance in question. The urges will be too strong, and the likelihood of relapse is too high. One of the most effective ways to get someone to quit a substance is to help them develop a competing interest.
A competing interest is an activity, hobby, or goal that makes you less reliant on your vice. The drive to engage in the activity or achieve a goal is so strong that it overcomes the urge to indulge in the addiction. Even though this concept originated out of substance abuse addictions, it works well for video game addiction.
Gamers get stuck in life because they feel powerless and directionless. They think that they don’t have control over their lives. They want to become accomplished individuals, but they end up being pulled back into video games, and cannot find the motivation to move forward in life. Moreover, they don’t even know which direction to move in. That can be paralyzing.
Video games give you a false sense of direction and growth. Due to our evolutionary history, progress is attractive to our brains. Video games fulfill that need, and as a result, it is difficult for gamers to engage that internal drive to achieve outside video games. However, sometimes you try to set your heart on something and accomplish it. You give it your all, and then you encounter a roadblock. The initial motivation that drove you to achieve your goal disappears suddenly. You try to push through, but eventually, you give up and stop. It is important not to treat these tries as failures. Instead, it is essential to understand why you failed.
Dr. K talks about developing a competing interest in this video:
Often, we pick arbitrary goals for ourselves. For example, a lot of gamers choose financial independence as a goal. However, that goal comes out of a desire, not a value. Desires don’t motivate you to make long-term changes in your life; values do. Desires are things that would be nice to have, but you wouldn’t have that drive to achieve them.
On the other hand, values motivate you to get out of your chair and achieve something, despite its difficulty and the suffering it may bring. That is essentially what a competing interest is — it arises out of your values, not your desires. Values make you feel fulfilled when you move in their prescribed direction.
The problem is that many gamers don’t know what their values are, which leaves them directionless. Luckily, there are some exercises that you can do to figure out what you value.
While you can try to stop playing video games in one go, or slowly reduce the time spent playing them, the most effective way to take back control over your gaming habit and your life is by developing a competing interest. Figuring out your competing interest depends on how well you can clarify and define your values. Moreover, you have to learn to differentiate your values from your desires. Your values will invoke an intrinsic sense of motivation that will come automatically, and your behavior will start to change. However, this will be a slow process, so don’t expect immediate results. Focus on developing a competing interest, and create change, one day at a time.
If you feel that your gaming habit is affecting your life, we can help. Sign up to work with a HealthyGamer Coach, trained by Dr. Alok Kanojia himself. HealthyGamer Coaches are gamers who have taken control of their life, and know exactly what you’re going through.
If you’re a parent seeking help with your child’s video game addiction, check out our Family Programs.