video games and mental health

Video Games and Mental Health

September 8, 2022

From primitive games like Pong and Pac-Man to today’s sprawling, complex multiplayer environments, video games have captured Americans’ attention for decades. Many children and adults play these games to relax, challenge themselves and connect with others, making it tricky to tell when gaming has crossed the line from a casual hobby to a problematic habit. 

The Trouble With Tech

Today’s children don’t know a world without technology. It’s second nature for them to interact through the screens of their cellphones, tablets, and laptops. Games are readily accessible on multiple devices, putting them within easy and continuous reach. Introverted children or young adults may find the anonymity of these online games comforting, as they can engage with others without revealing their true identities. 

If you also enjoy gaming, you may view video games as a way to share a pastime with your child, further blurring the boundaries between fun and obsession. According to the World Health Organization, a gaming disorder happens when someone ignores other priorities and interests, allowing video games to become their primary preoccupation. When young people spend most of their time playing video games, their academics, friendships and overall health will eventually suffer.

Are Video Games Addictive?

Research suggests the intermittent rewards involved in playing and winning these games may trigger a release of dopamine, a brain chemical that elevates mood and provides a rush of energy. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter involved in other addictive activities, such as alcohol or drug abuse.

Other studies have proposed that video games may not necessarily be so compelling because they are addictive, but due to a psychological phenomenon called “flow.” Flow takes place when people get so caught up in doing something that they lose track of time. While there is nothing inherently wrong with children immersing themselves in an engaging or challenging game, it can become a compulsion if they can’t stop playing and it takes time away from other valuable activities or relationships.

When teens and young adults fixate on video games, there are some telltale signs.

  • Poor performance at school, work or household responsibilities
  • Neglecting friendships and other interests
  • A decline in personal hygiene or grooming
  • Inability to limit time spent gaming
  • Signs of irritability, anxiety or anger when forced to stop gaming, even for brief periods 
  • The need to spend more time playing games or to play more intensely to derive the same level of enjoyment
  • Experiencing physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, agitation or emotional outbursts, if the game is unavailable
  • Using video games to escape stress or conflict

Evidence-Based Treatment Designed for Teens

At The Forum, our expert team offers years of experience in helping teens get back on the right track with their mental and behavioral health. We seek to meet the diverse needs of young adults between the ages of 12 and 17. To learn more about how we can help you and your family heal, reach out to us today.