Video game addiction affects 2-7% of the total world population. A study from Germany that looked at people between the ages of 12-25, about 5.7% met criteria (with 8.4% of males meeting criteria for video game addiction. In the United States, an estimated 10-30 million people meet the criteria for video game addiction.
There was recently a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on video game addiction, hosted by Harvard Psychiatrist Alok Kanojia. We find this topic very interesting and have therefore shared some of our favorite questions & answers.
Question #1: How do you distinguish between someone who is addicted to video games and someone who plays them a lot because they really enjoy them?
Answer #1: The main difference is whether they interfere with your function or goals in life. I have friends who make seven figures and play 40 hours of games per week. They're happy with where they are.
I have other friends who play games for 60 hours a week, live in their parents' basement, and have big hopes and dreams, but never move towards them in a substantial way.
If your life isn't going in the direction that you want, and you're playing a ton of games, that's a problem.
Question #2: What's the difference in treatment of video game addiction compared to say a drug addiction?
Answer #2: Some treatment is common, such as using cognitive behavioural techniques to help people understand what the driving forces behind their use is.
The biggest difference is that for the biological addictions, there are pharmacologic treatments: such as suboxone for heroin addiction, which provides a controlled form of opiate with an opiate blocker to prevent injection, or naltrexone to curb cravings and the reinforcing effects of alcohol. Nothing like this exists with video game addiction.
Lastly, video game addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, so I don't actually know of any scientifically validated treatments that exist. For example, the World Health Organization just classified video game addiction as a problem in 2018.
Question #3: How are substance use disorders different then behavioural disorders?
Answer #3: Substance use disorders are usually different from behavioral disorders, in a neuroscientific sense. Substance use disorders, such as alcoholism or heroin addiction, are biological substances that artificially activate dopamine reward circuitry in the brain (among other circuits, such as suppressing or affecting your limbic system).
Behavioral addictions, on the other hand, have far more complex mechanisms, but also affect dopamine reward systems (which makes games fun). For example, many gamers derive a sense of pride, identity, and accomplishment from playing games. This is one of the things that pulls people so heavily into games. I have never met a heroin addict who is proud of all of the things he's done related to heroin use.
At the end of the day, both are addictions because they are harmful behaviors that prevent people from achieving what they want in life. Gaming, however, also has a lot of positive impacts on people's lives. I have friends who met their spouses through video games, and I've maintained a lot of wonderful relationships through gaming.
The entirety of the Q&A can be read in the link below: