Video games have become one of the most popular entertainment mediums on the planet over the past few decades*. In 2017 alone, Americans spent more than $36 billion on video game products and more than 60 percent of U.S. households have at least one video game system. Games used to only appeal to a niche crowd, but significant leaps in technology allow modern developers to create realistic worlds on an unbelievable scale, which interest a broader range of players.
It can be very easy to feel “sucked in” to some of the environments and worlds created by modern game developers, and video games are capable of causing physical and psychological problems when players become fixated and neglect real-world responsibilities. Anyone in rehab or returning to everyday life after rehab may find video games a great way to relax, but it’s important to acknowledge their potentially addictive properties.
Understanding Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction isn’t physically addictive like most habit-forming substances, but developing a psychological attachment to games can be damaging. Video game addiction typically entails neglecting responsibilities to play games, spending inordinate amounts of money on gaming, and even neglecting physical health to play more. Some people only sleep a few hours each night to get more game time into their schedules, and some players have lost their life savings due to video game addiction.
Links To Substance Abuse
Video games have many good aspects that can turn detrimental in some circumstances. Ultimately, if a person leaves rehab and starts using video games as a distraction, he or she may eventually develop a stress-inducing fixation.
It’s vital to avoid replacing one addiction for another in recovery. Video gaming can’t become an addiction per se, but it can easily lead to compulsive behavioral patterns similar to sex addiction or exercise addiction**. Some of the behaviors that resonate with addiction that video games can create include:
- Preoccupation. Just like a person with a substance abuse problem may be preoccupied with thoughts about using again, video games can lead to fixation that persists throughout daily life and may even interfere with everyday responsibilities, such as work.
- Tolerance. Someone with a compulsive gaming disorder or who replaces substance abuse with video games may start seeking out more complex, challenging, or expensive games.
- Withdrawal. A person with a compulsive gaming habit may feel restless or agitated when he or she cannot play games.
- Inability to reduce. Someone who plays video games too much may start to feel as though he or she should reduce the amount of time spent playing, but be unable to do so.
- Deception. A person may recognize his or her gaming fixation and lie to others about the time or money spent on video games.
- Continuation despite negative impact. A person who continues playing video games after suffering negative consequences from gaming addiction likely has a compulsive gaming disorder.
These are just a few ways that demonstrate how video games may become an unintentional replacement for substance abuse. A person in recovery may turn to games as a distraction from cravings and then start to replace the rush of using drugs with the rush from playing games. Playing games triggers dopamine release*** similar to drug use, so creating the same type of cycle of dependency can be very dangerous. On the flip side, games can also be a constructive outlet that allows people in recovery to handle stress in a healthy way. The key is balance.
Different Types Of Games Have Different Effects
Video game addiction may eventually cause withdrawal symptoms that push a person in recovery back into substance abuse. There is a vast amount of research indicating very positive effects of playing video games, such as increased neuroplasticity and activating parts of the brain that govern spatial memory, visual acuity, and attention. Video games could potentially become a valuable part of treatment and offer a healthy outlet that helps a person overcome urges to use drugs or alcohol again. It’s important for each individual to find games that are suitable and interesting, but to play them in moderation.
Different types of games require different skills, and there is a wide selection of titles, genres, and formats for playing games. Different types of games also carry different positive and negative possibilities, including:
- Adventure games such as World of Warcraft and The Witcher. These games allow players to explore expansive fantasy worlds and do things they cannot do in real life. These games can offer stress-free relaxation to some, but other players may become fixated on uncovering hidden areas of a game world, finding in-game collectibles, or character progression. These games can also be incredibly time consuming, so a person may start to neglect real-world responsibilities to make progress in a fantasy world.
- Puzzle games such as Candy Crush and Words With Friends can help keep the mind sharp and are available on smartphone devices, which can make it easy for a person to neglect real-world responsibilities when he or she is glued to the smartphone. These games typically also push micro-transactions which could lead to unhealthy spending habits.
- Shooter games, such as Counter Strike and Halo require great hand-eye coordination and twitch reflexes. They offer the thrill of outplaying another player, but they can cause stress when players focus too much on winning rather than having fun.
- Team-based games such as League of Legends and Overwatch offer a great environment to play with others toward common goals, but the communities of these games are notoriously toxic and random players often go out of their way to ruin games for others. This can lead to frustration and stress for players who just want to enjoy the game.
These are just a few examples of the potential benefits and drawbacks of different types of games for people in recovery. Cultivating new hobbies, making new friends, and building a larger support network are all important steps to living sober after rehab, and video games can potentially help or harm these efforts.
Cultivating New Hobbies and Support Networks
Video games certainly carry a potential to cause compulsive behaviors, especially in people who have struggled with substance abuse in the past and may be prone to replacing one addiction for another. It’s crucial for people living in recovery after rehab to make mindful choices about their lifestyles. If video games play a role in a person’s life, there is nothing inherently wrong or unhealthy about this unless the person starts neglecting self-care or real-world responsibilities for games.
Take Part in the Conversation on Fight Addiction Now
The Fight Addiction Now community includes professionals, researchers, and other ordinary people who have experienced substance abuse firsthand, either personally or through a loved one with an addiction. If you have had positive or negative experiences with video games post-rehab, we invite you to share your experiences with others in the Fight Addiction Now community.