In an illuminating TEDx Talk, former nonstop video gamer Cam Adair shares his story of overcoming his self-described addiction to gaming.
Adair discusses how he coped with withdrawal from gaming by writing about his experience. For Adair, gaming provided him with an escape from reality, a social outlet in the multiplayer video game format, an intellectual challenge, and also improved his confidence. Adair’s description of gaming opens a window into the psyche of a gamer and suggests that a gamer may feel a psychological void when away from the gaming console. To help himself recover from gaming, Adair started a blog to help others quit. It’s been over a decade and Adair remains free of video game addiction.
Mental Withdrawal Symptoms
National studies on gamers and gaming behavior shed light on the extent of video gaming dependency and addiction across the United States. As discussed in Science Daily, an Iowa State University national research study of 1,178 gamers in the 8-18 age group found that almost 1 out of every 10 (8.5 percent) had developed an addiction to gaming. Vice reports that experts in this field have estimated that there are over 3 million American in the 8-18 age group who may be experiencing video game dependency. In turn, these gamers, whether they are experiencing dependency or addiction, are at risk of experiencing mental withdrawal symptoms when they abstain from gaming.
Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAM), a mutual aid fellowship, provides additional insight into the mental withdrawal symptoms that a gamer may experience. CGAM notes that while each gamer may experience different symptoms, typically, the symptoms are most severe in the first 3-4 days without gaming. The following are some of the most commonly experienced mental withdrawal symptoms:
- A strong desire to play video games
- Experience of general lack of motivation
- Inability to concentrate
- Restlessness or irritability
- Diminished performance in complex tasks
- Feelings of being lonely and/or empty
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Obsessive thoughts about the gaming activities of in-game friends
- Dreaming and/or fantasizing about games
It’s no coincidence that gaming withdrawal symptoms sound similar to those associated with the abuse of illicit drugs. In a WebMD discussion, psychologist and author Kimberly Young, PsyD, refutes any argument that gaming is not an actual addiction and describes this condition as a “clinical impulse control disorder,” which is akin to gambling addictions. In fact, the mental health worker’s most reliable diagnostic resource, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (5th Edition), includes internet gaming disorder. As a result, clinical mental health workers, where appropriate, can diagnosis a patient with gaming disorder and provide the necessary treatment or make the appropriate referral to a rehab center.
According to CGAM, while it is true that no two gamers in recovery will experience the same duration of withdrawal, in some cases, withdrawal symptoms may persist for several weeks or months. Withdrawal is a natural process, the body’s way of naturally performing a detoxification. In essence, withdrawal is a side effect of the brain as it works to reset itself and get back to the way it functioned before the person’s pathological relationship with gaming took hold. Treatment can help gamers in recovery to safely cope with mental withdrawal symptoms and develop strategies for a balanced, game-free life.
Treatment for Gaming Addiction Withdrawal
It’s helpful to understand where the experience of mental health withdrawal symptoms fit along the continuum from video game addiction to recovery. After a gamer has developed a psychological dependence on or addiction to gaming, mental withdrawal symptoms may emerge when gaming ceases for a prolonged period of time. There is no bright-line rule as to when such symptoms may manifest as it’s a matter of the gamer’s individual physiology. For gamers in a structured recovery program, withdrawal symptoms will emerge during the earliest phase of treatment.
As psychologist Kimberly Young further discusses in her interview with WebMD, the detoxification process for video game addiction is like the detox process with other substances of abuse, especially food. Video game addiction and food addiction are similar in that those in recovery cannot entirely abstain from electronics or food. It is nearly impossible to thrive in modern America without using computers and smartphones, which can be used for gaming.
Structured clinical treatment, therefore, may be especially helpful as the widespread availability of gaming technology presents a risk for relapse.
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports (in the context of ingestible drugs of abuse), a positive treatment outcome is usually contingent on the length of time the recovering person remains in treatment (a minimum of 90 days in most cases). Since there is a strong connection between video game addiction and addiction to drugs of abuse, the NIDA finding can be seen as applying to gaming as well. Although gaming addiction is a relative newcomer to the addiction treatment field, treatments for other addictions apply. Although there are methodologies in use and in development to specifically treat gaming addiction, the extensive body of clinical experience gained in treating substance abuse can, as necessary, be applied to treat gaming abuse.
For instance, Ayten Dogan, author of Prevention and Treatments of Games Addiction: Non-Pharmacological Approaches for Game Addiction, notes that studies on the treatment of video gaming addiction have found this disorder to be responsive to therapy as well as to the 12-Step model. In terms of therapy approaches, Dogan notes that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing may be effective. These therapies can begin during the withdrawal phase and help recovering gamers to cope with the mental symptoms of withdrawal. Simultaneously, and as recovery continues, therapy and the 12 Steps can help recovering gamers to overcome the addiction as well as develop new and healthier ways to entertain themselves, socially engage with others, and challenge their minds.
In this way, a comprehensive recovery plan helps recovering gamers to identify their personal and social needs, and meet them in a way that does not depend on gaming. Recovery from a gaming addiction is possible with the right help.