Effective video game addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. While complete abstinence might work for some, it is not the only way to treat video game addiction.
Video games change our brains in various ways, so it is essential to keep this in mind when trying to control your gaming habit. Let’s first understand what video game addiction is and why certain strategies fail to treat it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines gaming disorder as the following::
“Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
There is a simple way to recognize whether you have video game addiction. If it causes a problem, it is a problem.
Click here to learn about the signs of video game addiction.
In addiction treatment, there is an idea that complete abstinence is the only way to beat an addiction. However, video game addiction treatment is different. Many people that used to have problematic gaming habits in the past have taken control of their lives and still enjoy playing video games.
You can become a healthy gamer and enjoy playing video games while leading a balanced life.
Gamers have a hatred of boredom. Gaming creates a steady supply of dopamine (the neurotransmitter that regulates pleasure) with random bursts. As a result, the brain builds a tolerance to this constant supply of dopamine.
This requires a person to generate even more dopamine by playing games to be able to have fun. Otherwise, they feel bored. When a gamer takes up complete abstinence and tries to engage in more productive activities, they misattribute the boredom from a lack of dopamine to that productive activity that they are participating in. This reinforces their aversion to doing anything other than gaming.
Click here to find out why video games are so addictive.
Therefore, unless you have a large amount of willpower, trying to beat video game addiction by complete abstinence is not a very effective strategy.
Here is the difference between willpower and motivation:
There are some concrete steps you can take to control your gaming habit:
The first thing to understand is that you can’t overcome addiction without a competing interest.
For most people with video game addiction, gaming serves an essential purpose in their life. It helps them manage stress, decompress, and cope with their negative emotions.
A competing interest is something that you care about and want to do, that is not related to gaming. Even though wanting to get a job, move out of your parent’s house, and move forward in life are admirable goals, they are not competing interests.
While they are things that you want, they don’t drive you to change your behavior — they are just desires. Desires and motivators are very different things.
A competing interest puts a cost on your gaming. Every minute you spend gaming is a minute not spent working on your competing interest. It’s hard to stop gaming because you do not lose anything you care about by playing video games. A competing interest solves this problem and is probably the most effective video game addiction treatment.
The simplest way to find a competing interest is to perform the following activity:
The important thing is to actually sit down and physically do this exercise. While we, as gamers, are analytical and tend to think a lot, we aren’t very good at reflecting on or criticizing our own thought process.
Don’t fall into the trap that most gamers fall into, thinking, “I don’t need to do this exercise. I can just think it through in my head.” You can’t do that.
You actually need to externalize it on a piece of paper because of the way that games shape your brain. Games are the usual external sources of feedback on your thought process. When you do this activity, the first five sentences will be things that you can think of in your head, but everything that follows will be things that you have not thought about before.
Putting something down on paper will also allow you to reflect on it. It will also engage the creative part of your brain, which tends to not be very active in gamers.
Check out this video in which Dr. K goes more in-depth on developing a competing interest
For gamers, the most important thing to realize is that to change your behavior, you have to live according to your values, not your desires. This will be difficult because you probably don’t know what your values are.
This is where the activity mentioned earlier comes in. It will help you figure out what you care about, and what some of your values are.
Desires don’t drive your behavior — they don’t motivate you. If they did, then you would be moving towards your goals. Desires do not nudge us forward, they are just things that would be nice to have.
Competing interests motivate you and make you get out of your chair and move in a direction, and these competing interests depend on your values. Values make you feel fulfilled when you move in their prescribed direction.
Games change the way your brain processes information. Video games give you specific objectives, along with tools and assets to complete those objectives.
Focus on taking action, and not the potential outcome of that action.
Due to this, your brain becomes very objective-oriented or outcome-oriented. Since gamers are very analytical, they can predict the outcomes of their actions in video games.
This carries over to real life. If a gamer thinks that there is a chance that an action will not result in a favorable outcome, then they will avoid taking that action altogether.
This is one of the reasons that you find it hard to give up video games. If you are focused on outcomes and not on actions, then you will not engage in your competing interest. Your brain will tell you that there is little chance of success, so you should not attempt it anyway.
The solution to this problem is to reframe from being outcome-oriented to action-oriented. Don’t focus on the outcome of your actions, focus on taking action. For example, don’t focus on getting in shape, instead, focus on making it to the gym 3 times a week. It does not matter what you do at the gym, just get there thrice a week.
Practice becoming action-oriented, and over time, you will find yourself being less afraid of failure and moving closer to your goals.
Learn more about becoming Action-Oriented here:
Many mental health professionals are not trained in diagnosing and treating video game addiction, even though it is a growing issue. Click here to learn how many people in the world are actually addicted to video games.
When you see a therapist, they might diagnose you with depression rather than video game addiction. You might run into some disagreement due to this.
The solution to that is to be clear with your therapist about why you are seeing them. Explain to them how you feel video games affect your emotions and your life. Talk about what purpose video games serve for you.
If you do this, your therapist will get a better idea of what you are struggling with and how to help you.
You might run into some disagreement because of your therapist thinking that you have depression. However, be clear and state what is on your mind — you might need to push against that disagreement.
Finally, if they do not listen to you, find a different therapist. The more a mental health professional fits with you, the better they will be able to help you. Try to find someone who is young and possibly even has experience with video games.
It took you a long time to get addicted to video games. Similarly, it will take some time before you can gain control over your life. However, you will still see some progress over time.
Effective video game addiction treatment is a long term process, so stick with it, be patient, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
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.