If you have the urge to play video games and feel restless or depressed when you can’t play, you may have a gaming addiction.

Video games are a popular pastime enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Its use has skyrocketed in a relatively short period of time. In a few decades, we have gone from arcade games to online games so realistic and captivating that users feel like they are in another world. While most gamers play recreationally in their spare time, a minority find it difficult to control their gambling habits. Their obsession can become so severe that it interferes with school, work, relationships and even personal care. If you feel restless and irritable when you’re not gaming, and it interferes with your life goals, responsibilities, and relationships, you may be suffering from gaming addiction.

What is gaming addiction?

Gaming addiction is marked by a significant reduction in control of electronic or Internet gambling habits. Persistent and addictive behavior patterns lead to high levels of impairment in daily life, affecting your relationships, studies, work, and even self-care. It is estimated that pathological gambling affects between 1.7% and more than 10% of the general population, and that it mainly affects men.

Researchers continue to study the exact cause of video game addiction and determine whether it should be labeled as a psychiatric disorder. Although the issue is still controversial, many researchers consider pathological gambling to be a behavioral addiction, similar to gambling addiction. Some evidence shows that dopamine levels released in the ventral striatum of the brain during competitive video gaming are comparable to those caused by psychostimulant drugs. But whether or not it is a true psychiatric disorder, this condition is still recognized. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) added “video game disorders” to its list of mental disorders.

Common symptoms of video game addiction

Early studies show that people who are addicted to gambling experience the following symptoms:

a feeling of well-being or euphoria during play
inability to stop playing
a strong desire to play
feelings of emptiness, depression and irritability when they cannot play.

Other signs of gambling addiction are:

giving up previously enjoyed activities
perform poorly in school, work, and other tasks
need to spend more time playing to regain a previous level of enjoyment
using video games to relieve negative moods or avoid stress or conflict
lying about or minimizing time spent playing
a decline in personal hygiene due to excessive time spent gambling.

Potential consequences of gambling addiction

Gaming addiction can lead to many problems, including cognitive, psychological, physical, and social difficulties. Various aspects of gaming addiction can be linked to cognitive issues, including poorer:

episodic memory
working memory
problem solving skills
basic reading skills
written expression skills
processing speed
visual-spatial organization

A study of 385 teenagers found that people with gambling addiction had higher levels of:

problematic cell phone use

Video game addiction is also linked to the following physical symptoms:

carpal tunnel syndrome
“player’s thumb” (inflammation of the tendons that move the thumb)
“spring finger or stenosing tenosynovitis (finger gets stuck in a bent position due to inflammation)
tennis elbow (inflammation where the tendons attach to the elbow bone)
obesity (due to sedentary behavior and increased snacking)
vision problems/eye strain

Risk factors for video game addiction

Gaming addiction can affect anyone, but it’s most common in men, with research showing a male to female ratio of 2.5:1. Some evidence from the study suggests that Internet gaming addiction peaks in adolescence, but the results are mixed.

In a study of 866 college students (ages 12-17), the factors that most strongly determine whether a person will develop a gambling addiction are:

low self-control
social exclusion
low self-esteem
less control over the external environment
poor quality of parent-child attachment

Another month-long study of 123 university students in the UK found that having an underlying psychiatric illness (i.e. anxiety, depression) as well as the traits personality traits put people at risk for gambling addiction:

sensation seeking behavior

Another study found that people with severe symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are more prone to gambling addiction than those with less severe symptoms. Other research shows that gamers who play multiplayer online role-playing games are also at higher risk of developing gaming addiction.

Video game addiction treatment options

The main treatment for gambling addiction is psychotherapy, which can help you identify and change harmful thoughts and behaviors.

Psychotherapy that can help gambling addiction includes:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): In CBT, a therapist helps you examine your thoughts and emotions to better understand how they affect your behaviors. You learn to replace your negative thought patterns with healthier ones.
Family or marital therapy: Family or marital therapy educates loved ones about gambling disorder and helps create a more stable home environment.
Group therapy: Group therapy allows a group of people with gambling addiction to come together and discuss their problems under the supervision of a trained facilitator.
If you have an underlying mental disorder, such as anxiety or ADHD, your psychiatrist may recommend medication.


Gaming addiction involves a greatly reduced sense of control over one’s gambling habits. If you feel restless or depressed when you are not gaming, and this interferes with your life goals, you may have gaming addiction. You are not alone, as up to 10% of the population have unhealthy gambling habits.

If gambling is affecting your family, school, job, or ability to care for yourself, consider seeing a mental health professional to discuss treatment options. Joining a support group can be particularly helpful as it can allow you to meet others who are going through the same thing and help you feel less alone.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.