Gaming is a fun hobby and a way to unwind after a stressful day, but like with anything in life, too much gaming can become a problem. So, when does gaming go from a coping mechanism to an addiction distracting one from school, work, relationships, and/or sleep?
Similar to other addictions, gaming taps into the brain’s neural reward systems providing it the ability to grow from a simple pleasurable activity into something that we feel we cannot live without even at the expense of other essential responsibilities. Here are a few examples:
- Reward systems: levels, bonuses, points, etc. are designed to keep users engaged by tapping into the brain’s reward systems. Figuring out the perfect move or strategy makes getting the rewards all the more desirable and releases dopamine – the neural transmitter for reward-motivated behavior inducing a feeling of pleasure. The more we repeat these behaviors, the more the brain is rewarded. Over time, gaming can be physiologically responsible for patterns of substance use addition.
- Socialization: Today’s games also appeal to and stimulate the parts of our brain that reward users for socializing. This fact is also further complicated by the ongoing uncertainties of COVID, which can leave gaming feeling like a safe alternative to going out. Gaming with users all over the world feels much like hanging out with others – despite the fact that these relationships are often based solely around the premise of the game and not about users as individuals. These relationships can have significant positive or negative impacts – leaving users feeling elated from a compliment or betrayed and distraught if left behind. Complicating the matter, gaming ecosystems are basically available 24/7, making it easy to step in whenever there’s a free moment, or play at the expense of sleep and other forms of self-care like eating well and exercising.
- Augmented Reality: Humans often feel the need to escape from the reality they are living in. Video games transport users to an “alternate universe” with adventures, capabilities, and dilemmas that are quite frankly capitvating. This constant reward system can be an appealing alternative that can unfortunately lead to addiction if left unchecked.
Regardless of the game, know that moderation is key to being successful in both the real and virtual worlds. Here are a few signs that gaming use might be a problem:
- Thinking/talking about gaming all or a lot of the time
- Needing to spend more and more time playing to feel good
- Feeling unable to cut down on gaming
- Choosing to game instead of doing previously enjoyable activities
- Having problems at work, school, or home because of gaming
- Hiding how much time you spend playing
If gaming starts to get in the way of work, family, relationships, or other important elements of life – consider talking to a trusted friend or counselor about your use. While challenging, it’s better to be proactive than wait until one is at the brink of failing a class, losing a job, or harming relationships. Request an appointment or call 719-572-6100.