Many parents are facing the reality that problematic gaming is a very real threat to the their teenage children. What was once an innocent hobby has transformed into an addiction that has overtaken their lives. Additionally, many parents are confused on what exactly problematic gaming is and what to do about it.
At Family First Adolescent Services, we are dedicated to treating the underlying issues that present themselves in our clients’ behavior before coming to treatment. We believe that the behaviors themselves, whether it is substance use, problematic gaming, gambling, defiance, anger issues, or risk-taking behaviors are symptoms of a deeper problem.
What is Problematic Gaming?
Gaming disorder is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) 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.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.”
Like drug addiction, alcoholism, and many other types of addiction, Problematic Gaming is a real disease with real consequences. It is also particularly harmful in teens due to the social acceptance of excessive gaming. Many parents still view excessive gaming as a “childhood” phase, and something their kids will “grow out of.”
Problematic Gaming and the Teenage Brain
Studies are beginning to show that problematic gaming effects the brain in many of the same ways that drug addiction and other addictions do. This includes:
- Triggering the sympathetic nervous systems (Fight or Flight).
- Increased levels of dopamine from gaming, and a “drop” after gaming.
- An increased feeling of needing to “escape” the real world.
Additionally, according the peer reviewed journal Frontiers, researchers have found:
“functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses. These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders.”
Essentially, the brain reacts to problematic gaming the same as it would drug addiction or gambling addiction.
Signs Your Teen is Suffering from Problematic Gaming
There are many signs that your teen has a gaming problem. According to Dr. Han Doug-hyun from from Chung-Ang University Hospital in Seoul, South Korea, the top 5 signs of Problematic Gaming are:
- Disrupted regular life pattern. If a person plays games all night long and sleeps in the daytime, that can be a warning he or she should seek professional help.
- If the potential gaming or Internet addict loses his or her job, or stops going to school in order to be online or to play a digital game.
- Need for a bigger fix. Does the gamer have to play for longer and longer periods in order to get the same level of enjoyment from the game?
- Withdrawal. Some Internet and gaming addicts become irritable or anxious when they disconnect, or when they are forced to do so.
- Cravings. Some Internet and gaming addicts experience cravings, or the need to play the game or be online when they are away from the digital world.
Treating Problematic Gaming in Teens
In order to work effectively with problematic gaming, it is important to not get lost in trying to extinguish the negative behaviors and symptoms, but to address the underlying issues that are fueling these behaviors. If we focus too much on the symptoms we risk further alienating the teens and deepening the guilt and shame that is often already there. Instead, we look to what is lacking for the adolescent in his or her life, the underlying emotions and needs that have been unaddressed, and that are finding outlets through compulsive behaviors like gaming.
In the mental health field we refer to this approach as “Trauma-Informed,” meaning that we focus on the interrelation between unresolved early childhood trauma and later symptoms. This approach seeks to truly understand the inner world of our teen clients, not labeling them as wrong, bad or sick, but understanding that their behaviors – even as dysfunctional as they may be – are attempting to communicate a message to their environment.
Treatment for Problematic Gaming is in many ways similar to treating most other addictions. Early studies are showing problematic gaming is particularly troubling on the neuroplasticity of the teen brain. Family First Adolescent Services utilizes the brain-plasticity assessment and treatment methods founded by Dr G. Frank Lawlis, PhD, ABPP and the Lawlis Peavey PsychoNeuroPlasticity (PNP) Center.
The benefits of NARM include:
- Creating a context of safe and supportive relationship to access brain-building capacity of positive experiences
- Top-Down (cognitive) and Bottom-Up (Somatic) integration of neural network
- Stabilizing the Nervous System to support neurological connections, interconnectivity and nurturing neural deficits
- Learning mindful awareness techniques that bring organization and regulation to impaired functioning
- Helping to foster the ability to make healthy choices for themselves as they resolve child-like impulse control issues and access more adult-minded thinking
As Oprah Winfrey puts it, “If you don’t fix the hole in the soul, the thing that is where the wounds started, you’re working at the wrong thing.”