Is Video Gaming a Gateway Drug to Other Addiction?

video gaming a gateway drug

You might be thinking, “it’s just gaming” but according to the World Health Organization (WHO) video gamers have something much larger to worry about than the size of their screen. In a bold move, WHO will officially add gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases later this year. The classification provides information on medical diagnoses, treatment recommendations and insurance coverage for diseases, forcing health care practitioners and consumers to take a more serious look at a recreational hazard. Considering the larger picture, if gaming consumption can reach to a level of addiction, is video gaming a gateway drug to other addiction? Learn more about gaming addiction.

Gaming Addiction Is Real and Didn’t Happen Overnight

There is controversy amongst the scientific community as to whether a person can be addicted to gaming, much like alcohol or drugs. While there may not be a direct physical repercussion to the ongoing act of gaming, there are psychological and behavioral similarities to gambling addiction, for example, that prompted more in-depth studies.

By definition, addiction exists when a person continues to engage in an activity that proves harmful to one’s well-being by interfering with the ability to deal with day-to-day personal or professional obligations, relationships or health.

Ever spend time with a typical American under the age of 30? More than likely, there is some time spent each day on gaming, though it comes by him honestly. Television, Game Boy and Xbox were often the go-to babysitters while growing up. Unfortunately, the behavior of gaming has morphed into a mental disorder. Or has it?

Gaming – Addiction – or Symptomatic of Something Else

Since 1999, professor of psychology at Iowa State University, Douglas A. Gentile has witnessed the shift of gaming behaviors from recreational diversion to life-altering addiction. Though the acceptance of the trend isn’t readily embraced by many of his peers just yet. Skeptics scoff at the idea of gaming as an addiction or mental disorder because they immediately try to equate it to heroin abuse or alcoholism. Gaming addiction is more of a standalone, though there is alignment with other addictions.

Joypad for Some, Hell Ride for Others

gaming addiction is real

Like other addictions, why can some people manage or control their behaviors while others cannot? And so it goes with gaming.

At best, gaming provides a healthy outlet from the rigors of work or school, or a nagging better half. (Did I just say that?) Escapism of sorts, gaming takes participants to other places and provides a mechanism for socialism with people already known and new friends that engage in gaming through virtual invitations. Here’s where it can get weird.

Thanks to video game manufacturers, one’s personal gaming status will rate obsolete without the purchase of their latest and greatest version in a series or shiny, new game. Gamers wrought with the fear-of-missing-out issue will buy in, literally, just to stay current and relevant (their mindset, not mine).

Have you ever sat in the room next to the one where gamers are going at it? You’ll hear random screaming, cursing, raucous laughter and maybe even personal items being thrown in response to the play-by-play. And with today’s crisp graphics and audio, it can be difficult to distinguish between game and reality.

Reach the Next Level and You Can’t Turn It Off

Once a gamer gets to a point where every part of their day is dictated around gaming, putting off other commitments, in a successive 12-month period – gaming addiction is evident. Research studies, especially those conducted since 2013, show increasing evidence of gaming as a mental health disorder but with a twist.

Medical and mental health experts note increased incidence of anxiety and depression in gamers, in addition to ADHD. But which came first, gaming addiction or mental health disorder?

Gaming and Co-Occurring Disorders

Rates of dual diagnosis amongst people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol average over 50 percent. A vital part of addiction recovery includes a deeper understanding of the person, what life stressors or trauma may have led to the addiction and whether mental illness is a byproduct of the addiction or the addiction rose out of the need to quiet the mental illness.

The same could be said about gaming addiction. However, one study has shown positive results as once participants stopped gaming, their mental health issues declined.

One Addiction Can Fuel Another

The act of gaming is most often done indoors. Even though it is engaged with others on a virtual space, isolation runs through the experience. For those who escape through gaming, the thrill of it can soon wear off, leading a player to seek other pleasurable behavior. This can include drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana or more.

Identify Gaming Addiction by Knowing What to Look for

There’s no reason to ward off gaming from your household forever. There are steps to put into practice that will help manage your intake of virtual escapism and maintain a healthy gaming-life balance. Whether you’re reading this for yourself, or concern for a friend or family member, I’ll offer up this short phrase to use as a simple guideline for recreational activities: Everything in moderation.

Signs of Gaming Addiction

  1. Loss of control over time spent gaming (12 months or more)
  2. Loss of interest in other activities, friends or family interaction
  3. Craving for gaming
  4. Sense of loss or agitation when not gaming
  5. Poor attendance at work or school
  6. Questionable understanding of “real” vs. “virtual”

The following can ease an avid gamer into a healthier lifestyle with varied socialization indoors and outdoors:

  • Limit gaming to a few hours a day
  • Replace some “game” time with exercise
  • Divert “game” time to face-to-face interaction with friends or family

(not face time or Skype, in person socialization)

  • Develop another hobby that engages the creative process

(music, art, writing)

Help for Gaming Addiction

There are cognitive behavioral therapies available to reduce the negative effects of gaming addiction, restoring a sense of control and the ability to make better choices. While the internet can be useful for finding information, consulting with a medical professional who specializes in assessing and treating the disease of addiction and co-occurring disorders is paramount to achieving lifelong recovery. The game stops here.

Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.