As a family member, it’s important to understand that addiction isn’t something a person chooses, nor is it something that occurs overnight. Addiction develops over a long period of time and often sneaks up on us. And it can take a long time to convince your child that they need to address their gaming compulsion.
The road to addiction recovery falls into many stages. Each stage gets one step closer to detox and recovery, but it’s never an easy path.
In Dr. Diclemente’s book, Addiction and Change: How Addictions Develop and Addicted People Recover, Second Edition, he describes the five stages of Addiction as the following: Precontemplative, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, and Maintenance.
Dr. Diclemente describes the five stages and the tasks and goals necessary to begin to reach the next stage. I paraphrase the goal of each stage here.
Precontemplation is the period where there is little or no consideration that the addicted person themselves believes they have a problem. Change of their current pattern of behaviour is not something they can even fathom.
Needed in this stage is awareness of the need to change. Work towards having them envision the possibility of change. This is where you can plant the seeds and talk about how your child’s gaming has become problematic, but understand that this is a stage of deep denial for the addicted gamer.
This stage marks the individual examining their current pattern of behaviour and considering the potential for change in a pros and cons analysis.
Needed in this phase is the awareness and consideration of the pros and cons of their addictive behaviour pattern. They should weigh the costs and benefits of change to a new behaviour. This stage is a good time for decision-making. Although the person with the addiction may still waiver in this phase, it’s important to note that they are finally considering the possibility that they have a problem. The pros of quitting gaming need to outweigh the cons in order to move to the next stage.
In this stage the addicted individual commits to taking action to change their behaviour pattern. They develop a strategy for change and addiction recovery.
Needed during this time is supporting the individual to increase their commitment. This preparation stage is the time to create an acceptable, accessible, and effective change plan to move forward into recovery, like a twelve-step programme. This may also be a good time to engage a coach or therapist. Most important is that the person with the addiction understands that they have the full support and that everyone is willing to make whatever changes are necessary for the most successful outcome.
During this stage, the individual employs their plan and takes steps to change their addictive behaviour pattern and/or begins creating a new behaviour pattern.
To support this stage, it’s important to help implement strategies for change. The plan may need to be revised, as needed. Most helpful is for the support person to help the individual in sustaining commitment when they are faced with difficulties. A clear understanding that change is going to be challenging, and leading with patience and empathy, will be most helpful.
This maintenance stage is where the new recovery behaviour pattern is continued for an extended period and is fused into the individual’s lifestyle.
It’s helpful during this time to support these solidified changes across a wide range of different situations. Changes in the family may be needed to integrate these new behaviours into the person’s lifestyle. Careful monitoring and support can help him/her to avoid slips and possible relapses back to their old pattern of behaviour.
Moving through these stages is not always a linear process, and each stage doesn’t contain a timeline. The person struggling with the addiction can get stuck in the precontemplation stage for a lengthy period before moving to the contemplative stage. They can also relapse and return to a precontemplative state and remain stuck again.
The same thing can happen in the preparation stage. A trigger can send the person spiralling backwards just as they are creating a plan to act. And in the action and maintenance stages, relapses can occur, and the person must then cycle through the steps once again.
Relapse occurs less frequently in the Maintenance stage than in Action, but it can still happen. A relapse following a lengthy recovery period can be demoralizing and discouraging. It’s important to identify the factors that triggered this relapse and work through the problem, finding a new and more manageable recovery plan.
It’s important to understand that the addict’s family member(s) can circle through and around these stages, as well. A parent can be contemplating the idea that their child is addicted, and they want to intervene and help, so they move to the action phase and look to start creating change for their son or daughter. But while these caregivers are in this action stage, they may start to question the seriousness of and whether an addiction truly exists.
Or the addicted child convinces the parent that they can control and manage his/her behaviour patterns without intervention. The family member then returns to the precontemplation stage and re-considers their position. Those supporting the person with the addiction can vacillate throughout any of these stages and inadvertently sabotage a positive outcome, just as the addict can waver and relapse. This cycle can be a challenging, frustrating, and time-consuming journey requiring enormous initiative, patience, discipline, desire, and commitment.
Although Dr. Diclemente’s work focuses on biological addictions, such as alcohol or drugs, the same stages apply with a psychological addiction such as video gaming. In my coaching, I have experienced the pre-contemplative flip within the same session. The gaming addict may lead with the phrase, “I am addicted and need help”, and as the idea of stopping gaming becomes a reality, will retract and make the statement, “I don’t have a gaming problem” before our call ends.
It’s important to be consistent, even when the problematic gamer is not. It is absolutely normal for them to vacillate, hesitate, and deny because you are asking them to leave behind a coping mechanism that is, for them, a perceived place of safety. The goal is for them to learn healthier management skills and maintain gaming sobriety for a lengthy period of time, so that giving up their addiction doesn’t invoke more fear.
You can read more on these stages in my book, Cyber Sober: A Caregiver’s Guide to Video Gaming Addiction.
Are you struggling with a gaming addicted child? I am still accepting new coaching clients.
DiClemente, Carlo. Addiction and Change, Second Edition: How Addictions Develop and Addicted People Recover. Second, The Guilford Press, 2018.