This is a difficult time for many as we self isolate through the COVID19 pandemic. I am using this time at home to write my second book. My son has graciously agreed to participate in recorded interviews with me, answering many questions. The first half of my book, I have weaved in and out of his addiction journey through the telling of the nine signs of addiction. The second half, I will be sharing his recovery process and how that has changed his life, as well as mine. I am grateful to have this opportunity to get inside the brain of a recovering video gaming addict and share with my readers how his mind works. My hope is that this will help parents understand the struggle and be able to support and guide their own child, with compassion and understanding, and perhaps some will be able to prevent this destructive compulsion from occurring.

Here’s a small excerpt from my first draft, outlining the nine signs of addiction to look for.

 There are presently 2.5 billion gamers in the world. That constitutes one third of our world population. That’s an astounding number! Video games have clearly become a part of many people’s lives. They are an extremely popular recreational outlet and, with online multi-player  games, they are an attractive source for socializing and making friends.    

For many, the most common misconception about how video gaming becomes an addiction is the fact that no stimulant such as drugs or alcohol are consumed. How then can it change brain chemistry and alter a person’s behavior? Like sex, food, or gambling addiction, the act is the stimulant. 

Excessive electronic screen time can put the body into a state of high arousal and hyperfocus which then over stimulates the nervous system, and then causes a variety of chemical, hormonal, and sleep disturbances in the same way that drugs and/or alcohol do.

The feel-good brain chemical, dopamine is released during this state of high arousal. This heightened state has one then craving even more stimulus. The more one games, the more chemical is released. The more time a gamer spends engaging in this stimulating virtual arena, the stronger the brain’s impulse to continue playing, and the harder the habit is to break. Over unregulated, habitual time, addiction is the highly probable outcome.

On June 18, 2020 the World Health Organization established Video Gaming Addiction as an official disorder.

This “Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. Video gaming from CAMH

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months”. 

The American Psychiatric Association has identified nine warning signs to watch for when it comes to video game addiction. 

  1. Preoccupation with video games. The individual thinks about previous gaming activity or anticipates playing the next game; Gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life. 
  2. Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away. These symptoms are typically described as irritability, anxiety, boredom, cravings, or sadness. 
  3. Tolerance – the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in video games. This may be motivated by a need for completion of increasingly intricate, time-consuming, or difficult goals to achieve satisfaction and/or reduce fears of missing out. 
  4. Unsuccessful attempts to control the participation in video games. The player is unable to regulate and stop themselves
  5. Loss of interests in previous hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, video games. 
  6. Continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems. The individual continues to play despite the negative impact. 
  7. Has deceived family members, therapists, or others regarding their gaming. 
  8. Use of video games to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety). 
  9. Has jeopardized or lost a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity because of participation in video games.

Under the proposed criteria, a diagnosis of internet gaming disorder would require experiencing five or more of these symptoms within a year. The condition can include gaming on the internet, or on any electronic device, although most people who develop clinically significant gaming problems play primarily on the internet”.

My son, Jake possessed every one of these symptoms. It was heartbreaking, as a mother, to no longer recognize the son I knew, once he was in full blown addiction.