As technology becomes an increasingly vital part of our society, it becomes more and more difficult for many people to separate from their electronic devices. For teens who are grappling with emotional, psychological, or behavioral issues this may be an even more daunting task. Research shows that 60% of all teens play video games every single day. A recent study showed that 12% of participants use video games addictively or compulsively. These teens can have a very difficult time unplugging from internet games or their video game console so that they can connect with reality and the relationships around them.
While the American Psychiatric Association has not yet formalized these issues into a concrete diagnosis, the DSM-V (Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) classifies these issues as Internet Gaming Disorder. IGD is considered a “Condition for Further Study” and will likely become an official diagnosis once its diagnostic criteria is shown to be valid and consistent. The DSM-V reports that although it can affect individuals of any gender or age, Internet Gaming Disorder is most prevalent in young men, ages 12 to 20. Internet Gaming Disorder can also be categorized as “mild,” “moderate,” or “severe,” depending on the severity of the individual’s symptoms and the impact it has on their life.
Despite the name of “Internet Gaming Disorder,” gaming addictions are not limited to online games such as World of Warcraft and Minecraft; many teens experience similar problems separating themselves from their favorite gaming consoles (i.e. Playstation or Xbox) as well.
Since this is a fairly recent phenomenon, many parents are unsure of what video game addiction looks like. Many of the symptoms of video game addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder are congruent with the symptoms of a substance abuse addiction. In fact, under brain scans, both share a similar neurological footprint. Here are the most common symptoms and signs of video game addiction and/or Internet Gaming Disorder in teens:
- Preoccupied, absorbed, or obsessed with video games and/or internet gaming
- Withdrawal symptoms, including anger, anxiety, or irritability when access to video game console or computer is limited or taken away
- Academic problems such as dropping grades, missing assignments, disengagement from or sleeping in class
- Disinterest in other hobbies or activities they used to enjoy. Choosing video games or internet gaming in favor of friends, sports, and hobbies
- Covering up or lying about the amount of time spent playing video games or internet gaming
- Isolation from peer group
- Using video games or internet gaming as a crutch or escape from negative emotions, stress, and anxiety
- Avoiding responsibilities, such as schoolwork, chores, or after-school job in favor of gaming
- Disregard for personal hygiene or other important life skills
- Significant change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
- Building up a “tolerance” in video game sessions; person needs to play more to get the same satisfaction, or gets little satisfaction but still feels compelled to play
Some parents overlook symptoms of video game addiction and/or Internet Addiction Disorder as simply “teens being teens”. This can be a dangerous misconception. The symptoms and signs of video game addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder can lead to very serious problems in the long run. When signs of video game addiction and Internet Gaming Disorder remain unchecked teens can adversely impact their cognitive functioning, become further isolated from their support system, and exacerbate underlying conditions such as Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, or fragile self-esteem.