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Is video game addiction real? How to spot problems

The reflection of a computer screen in a man's glasses.

The short answer is yes, “video game addiction” is a real thing. But this isn’t a term that we tend to use or understand correctly.

In the medical diagnosis world, video game addiction is officially known as gaming disorder or internet gaming disorder. Researchers are still trying to understand it and its addictive tendencies, including what causes it, who’s most at risk, and whether it can be classified as a true addiction.

Although most people who play video games won’t develop a gaming disorder or addiction, there’s a very small group of people, estimated at 1–3%1 of the population, who may be at risk.

How Is Video Game Addiction Defined?

A video game addiction or gaming disorder is an uncontrolled or compulsive use of video games, to the degree that it interferes with a person’s everyday life. 

Because researchers are still debating the definitions and symptoms of video game addiction or gaming disorder, it is difficult to know exactly how many people may have this mental health issue. One Norwegian study found that about 87% of gamers exhibited normal behavior. However, about 4% were engaged gamers, 7% were problem gamers, and just over 1% were considered truly addicted gamers.

How Much Time Spent on Video Games Is Too Much?

Many people enjoy playing video games—frequently and for long periods of time in some cases—but how do you know when someone is spending too much time playing? Experts recommend that children and teens spend less than two hours a day on screen time, including video games. For adults, playing video games for more than five hours per day can signal a problem.

Experts do note that the experience of playing and how someone engages with the video games they play may be more important to determining addiction or gaming disorder than looking at how much time they’re spending on playing. Some individuals may play for intense periods longer than five hours on some days without experiencing issues. 

So when does playing video games become an “addiction”? When a person begins to experience issues at home, school, or work because of video games and they’re unable to control their behavior, it’s a more reliable sign of gaming disorder and addiction than time playing alone. 

Gaming disorder tends to impact other areas of a person’s life. They may play video games instead of engaging in activities that they used to enjoy, or they may lose sleep because of the video game. Children and teens may have trouble focusing at school, and they may be in a bad mood when they aren’t playing. They may not finish homework, study for tests, or participate in school groups.

In addition, gaming disorder can impact a person’s relationships. Children, teens, and adults with gaming disorder may withdraw from the people around them and spend more time playing video games alone than engaging with others.

Why Is the Term “Video Game Addiction” up for Debate?

Although many people use the term “video game addiction,” many experts are unsure about whether or not people experience a true addiction from playing video games. 

For gamers, the use of the term can be problematic. Video games have historically often been blamed, often without clear evidence, for a wide range of social issues. However, over two billion people globally play video games regularly, and the vast majority do not experience negative effects. Gamers may feel targeted or judged by the use of the term “addiction” in conjunction with what is for them just a fun hobby or harmless pastime.

Another challenge to using the term “addiction” with video games is that there may be misunderstanding about what this means for the average person. Many people may say that they are “addicted” to playing a particular video game, but do not experience any of the negative effects that people with gaming disorder do. This complicates our understanding of whether or not video games can cause addiction and what effects it has for people.

What Causes Addiction to Video Games?

There are a number of factors that may create problematic video game behavior. These include:

  • Escapism from personal stress: For some individuals, video games offer a way to forget about what is going on in the “real world.” They may play to escape the stressors of their daily lives.
  • Gamification and sense of accomplishment: Many games are designed to encourage people to play. This can lead some people to become addicted to the feelings of accomplishment or the dopamine rush that occurs with winning.
  • Social nature of gaming: Some players, particularly those who play role-playing games, may be drawn into the fantasy reality that the game presents. Finding friends within the game can increase the time spent playing.
  • Mental health issues: People who have existing mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or loneliness, may be at increased risk of video game addiction. 

Signs of Video Game Addiction

Are you concerned about the signs of video game addiction in yourself or someone you love? The following list can help you see if there is a problem that you need to seek help for. The signs of video game addiction or gaming disorder may vary from person to person, but common signs include: 

  • Isolating or withdrawing: A common sign of video game addiction is that the person isolates themselves from the people around them in order to continue to play video games.
  • Letting go of other activities they used to enjoy: As the person spends more time playing video games, they may stop activities that they used to enjoy.
  • Lying or hiding about video games: People who are addicted to video games may lie about how much or how often they are playing. They may also hide their video games so others won’t know that they are playing.
  • Sleep & focus issues: Individuals experiencing a problem with video gaming may experience insomnia, sleep deprivation, or have issues with focus and concentration in their daily lives. 
  • Aggressive or irritable behavior: Someone with a gaming problem may become aggressive or irritable when they are not playing video games.
  • Feeling out of control: Some people with a video game addiction may think about the game all of the time or be unable to control how often or how much they play. They may want to play less, but not be able to stick to playing limits.

Video Game Addiction Help

How to Know If You Have a Video Game Addiction

The only way to know for sure if you have a video game addiction is to seek a diagnosis from a mental health professional. A therapist can help you see if you have the signs of a video game addiction. Browse our directory of video game addiction therapists today.

Treatment Options

Video game addiction may be symptomatic of other underlying mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. Therapy, medication, and group therapy programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous) have all proven effective for other types of addiction and may be effective for video game addiction. 

One therapy that has been particularly useful for many people with video gaming addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy. Check out our directory to find a CBT therapist near you.

About the author

The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.

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