For most of us, the computer and Internet are indispensable tools of our daily lives. For many adolescents and young adults, spending time on the computer means playing online video games; over 90% of young adults do it, and the phenomenon has lately highlighted what many behavioral health researchers now refer to as video game addiction – a disorder that is most dramatically expressed with games known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). World of Warcraft® is probably the most well-known of these. MMORPGs seemed to be engineered to maximize the amount of time a player stays in the game by using highly reinforcing reward patterns based on operant conditioning. This built-in game architecture is significant since adolescents usually begin their gaming career at a time of high neuroplasticity and while their brains have yet to fully develop the ability to manage impulses. It has also been suggested that those with video game addiction may experience changes in the brain that are similar to those with substance use disorders. Symptoms of video game addiction can include inability to stop or cut down the activity, craving more and more time at the computer, neglecting work, school or family obligations in favor of gaming and feeling empty or irritable when not in play.
At Cottonwood’s residential addiction treatment center, we know that video game addiction treatment must begin with thorough psychiatric and bio-psycho-social assessments designed to identify possible medical, psychological, developmental and social co-factors that may have a bearing on the addicted person’s gaming. In Cottonwood’s safe and structured setting, gamers, isolated and entrenched in excessive hours of play can normalize social anxiety and regain the emotional support in group activities.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can also be useful in helping the addicted gamer find more adaptive ways of managing moods, feelings and thoughts that may trigger impulses to game. On campus On-Line Gamers Anonymous, a recovery fellowship based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous provides our gaming patients with the experience, strength and hope necessary for their recovery from gaming addiction.
Addiction to video games sometimes exists in tandem with co-occurring mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Learn more about Cottonwood’s commitment to identifying co-occurring disorders in conjunction with our video game addiction treatment program.