Dear Therapist:

I would like to know the panel’s opinions regarding video games. I have heard that it is possible to become addicted to video games and I am not sure how this could be possible considering there is nothing the person is taking into their body like nicotine or alcohol. I understand that there are more productive ways that I can be spending my time but it seems that there is a tendency now to turn everything into an addiction. Video games have been around for a long time so I don't see why it suddenly becomes a psychological problem. Perhaps you can shed some light on this newfound issue. 



You are touching on a few variables. Problems related specifically to overuse of video games has been a hot button issue for a number of years. Labeling of people and actions (and of people as based on their actions) has become the norm in modern American society. Specifically, the words “addiction,” “addictive,” “addicting,” “addict,” and “addicted” have become household terms.

Generally speaking, there are two types of addiction: physical and emotional. However, it is impossible to completely separate the two. Our minds and bodies work together as a cohesive unit. We have all had innumerable thoughts and emotions over our lifetimes. Every experience (like happiness, sadness, anger, thoughts)—no matter how inconsequential—causes a change in the structure of our brains.

Over the last number of years, the concept of neuroplasticity has gained much attention. In simple terms, this merely refers to the brain’s capacity, throughout life, to physically change due to sensory experiences. Since every experience will in some way affect the brain’s actual structure (and vice-versa), there can be no clear, absolute distinction between the physical and the emotional. Therefore, we can only to some degree distinguish between a “physical” addiction and an “emotional” one.

It may be true that alcohol and drugs are “more addictive” than video games—and this is likely due in part to the addictive qualities inherent in them. However, what may make someone even more susceptible to addiction is having an addictive personality. “Addictive personality” is not a disorder, and it has not been officially codified. This is likely due to the fact that it can have its roots in various aspects of personality. Genetics, impulsivity, thrill-seeking, the presence of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, and trouble self-regulating are some of the traits associated with those who tend to get addicted.

As with any disorder, a significant determinant is the effect that addiction has on a person’s life. Problems related to excessive gaming can range from decreased motivation to a severe inability to curtail video game play. The degree to which these affect a specific individual is based on many factors. When someone has a combination of factors that detrimentally affect them, this is identified as a problem. This can be classified as “addiction,” “trouble coping,” “self-isolation,” “social issues,” or another label. However, the effect on the individual’s life should be the main focus.

If you have an addictive personality, you may be more likely to become addicted to things. This can include video games. If you find that playing games is keeping you from other enjoyable activities, or if it interferes in another area of your life, it may be a problem. If—in the moment—you have trouble tearing yourself away from video games despite the general recognition that you should be doing something else, this can point to an issue. However, if you simply enjoy playing games—but it doesn’t cause you to neglect other aspects of your relationships and responsibilities—it may be a healthy activity.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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