Learn / Unplug From Gaming Addiction and Reconnect With Real Life
In moderation, video games can be a great way to unwind. But gaming can take over your life. If it goes from a casual hobby to an all-consuming part of your routine, you might need support to get back on track. And there are many ways to approach recovery. You can even go to rehab for gaming addiction.
Addiction doesn’t always include taking drugs—it can also be behavioral. In fact, some of the best therapies for gaming addiction can also treat other types of addiction.1
Adventure therapy can be exciting. During treatment, you’ll explore the great outdoors and learn new skills. This popular therapy for gaming addiction2 also invites you to connect with other people. By solving problems together, you can learn to support each other in person—not just through a screen. Wilderness therapy, in particular, offers important benefits during recovery from gaming addiction:
This approach invites you to heal and have fun at the same time. As you rock climb, kayak, or hike, you’ll also develop greater self-awareness and confidence.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common method for treating gaming addiction.3 It can also treat people with internet addiction.4 During each session, you and your therapist will talk through your most frequent thought patterns. Then, they’ll teach you practical ways to cope with those thoughts. For example, you might practice these skills:
The skills you learn in therapy will help you manage your symptoms. But that’s not the only reason CBT is effective for treating gaming addiction.5 This therapy also treats the underlying causes of gaming addiction, like impulse control.
Gaming addiction can damage your relationships. But the reverse is also true: an unhealthy family environment is a risk factor for gaming addiction.1 If that’s your experience, family therapy might be an important part of recovery.
Data shows that family therapy can improve gaming addiction symptoms.6 Specifically, this treatment lowers the time patients spend gaming or just being online. It also helps family members understand why their loved one has a gaming addiction. That makes it easier for them to support the person through recovery.
Motivational interviewing (MI) helps patients define their own reasons for wanting to recover. When the desire to heal comes from within, committing to treatment gets easier. MI is a common treatment for gaming addiction.6
You can access MI in a variety of ways, such as in therapy, from another clinician, or even remotely. In fact, some forms of online MI are specifically designed to treat gaming addiction.7 Data shows this type of treatment can be hugely effective.
Gaming might give you a sense of community. But that community won’t necessarily protect you from addiction. On the contrary, it might even make your symptoms worse. Addiction support groups offer a healthy alternative.
If the 12 Steps resonate with you, Gaming Addicts Anonymous might be a good place to start. However, faith-based recovery isn’t a good fit for everyone. In that case, you can consider non-12-Step groups that welcome people with any type of addiction, like SMART Recovery. But even if you don’t join a support group, it’s important to start building relationships with people who understand what you’re going through.
When compared to other addictions, gaming is relatively new. Perhaps because of this, there are some common misconceptions about gaming addiction.8 But if you’re showing the symptoms of addiction, it’s important to take them seriously.
Gaming addiction is a preoccupation with gaming that interferes with all other parts of your life.9 People with this condition may lie about how much they play, lose interest in other activities, and develop sleep issues. You can even experience withdrawal symptoms, like cravings, when you try to take a break.
Addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That’s true for drug use, gambling, and any other unhealthy behavior. And there are certain factors that increase your risk of gaming addiction:1
Additionally, some demographics are more likely to develop video game addiction.10 Specifically, young people and boys may be at a greater risk.
If you have more than one diagnosis, it’s important to give each one the attention it deserves. Often that means getting treatment for co-occurring disorders. This approach may give you more insight into your complex emotional experience.
Different games also correlate with different addiction symptoms. For example, people who play first-person shooters tend to be more impulsive. But people with addiction to MMORPGs are often more extroverted, even if gaming gets in the way of in-person relationships. It’s also worth noting that not everyone who plays MMORPGs or first-person shooters is at risk of gaming addiction. Why you’re playing matters just as much as what you’re playing.
Some people use games to avoid real-life issues.11 This is most common with MMORPGs,9 in which players take on an in-game persona. And most of the time, your character faces less complicated issues than you do. Fighting a dragon is easy once you’re good at the game. And it has a straightforward outcome: win or lose. Either way, you’re still the main character. Most of the time, real life is much messier than that.
Many escapist gamers have low emotional and impulse control.12 As a result, it can be hard to manage the stress of daily life. Instead, people turn to fictional worlds that reward impulsive behavior. But this just compounds the issue. If this is your experience, you might practice emotion regulation skills during recovery.
Gaming can fulfill players’ need for connection,9 especially if you don’t have many strong relationships in real life. It might even feel easier for you to talk to people when you’re behind a screen. Studies show that people with gaming addiction feel closer to other people during online interactions than they do in person.
Over time, this can become a vicious cycle. First, you reach out online by gaming. But as your addiction develops, you may lose interest in your real-world relationships. And as you let go of those friendships, it can feel like gaming is your primary source of connection. In treatments like wilderness therapy, patients relearn how to build sustainable relationships.
Video games are meant to be engaging.13 Game developers want you to continue playing. That’s one reason they offer so many rewards. Leveling up gives you instant access to new skills, with no studying required. This pattern appeals to people who feel unsuccessful outside of gameplay. Research shows a relationship between gaming addiction and low self-esteem.9
Doing well in a game can give you a sense of accomplishment. It may also earn you the respect of fellow gamers, which can boost your self-image. However, these achievements don’t prepare you for the hard work of building a meaningful life. There’s no loot drop after you deal with a breakup, or retake a failed exam. But often, those experiences are necessary in order for you to grow as a person.
Unlike most areas of life, video games have clear storylines. Even when you’re exploring an open world, you usually have a specific quest in mind. If you feel lost and driftless when you’re offline, gaming addiction can satisfy your need for a personal mission.14
This can be true for people without clear goals, and also for those with lofty ambitions. Most of the time, the stakes are lower in a boss fight than they would be if you applied to law school. And you might feel more confident about winning the game than you do about achieving your dreams. But if you let gaming take up too much of your time, it becomes an obstacle in its own right.
Gaming might feel like a great adventure. To be good at it, you need dedication and creativity. But as you build on those skills, you may find that you need a more complex challenge. With the right support, you can find what you’re looking for in real life.
Browse our list of rehabs for gaming addictions to learn about their pricing, treatment options, and more.
Reviewed by Lisa Misquith
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