Video Gaming Addiction
Here’s What to Know

By Bobbe McGinley, Provider for the Division of Problem Gambling
Founder of ACT—Counseling & Education
Clinical Director, Recovery in the Pines and Birches Health


In recent years, video gaming has evolved from a niche pastime into a global phenomenon, engaging millions of players across various demographics. In the US in particular, players are often younger and male. While gaming offers numerous benefits, such as improved cognitive skills, social interaction, and stress relief, it also poses the risk of addiction. Video gaming addiction is a behavioral and process addictive disorder characterized by an overwhelming compulsion to play video games, at times leading to negative consequences in personal, academic, and professional aspects of life.


Do you know the warning signs?

Preoccupation with Video Games

One of the primary indicators of video gaming addiction is an excessive preoccupation with gaming. Individuals struggling with this disorder often spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about past gaming experiences or anticipating future gaming sessions. This obsession can interfere with daily responsibilities and social interactions.


Loss of Control

Loss of control is a hallmark of any addiction. With video gaming, this manifests as an inability to limit the duration and frequency of gaming sessions. Despite attempts to cut back, individuals find themselves gaming for extended periods, often neglecting important tasks and obligations.


Withdrawal Symptoms

Like other forms of addiction, video gaming can lead to withdrawal symptoms when gaming is not possible. These may include irritability, restlessness, anxiety, and depression. The intensity of these symptoms can vary, but they generally contribute to a cycle of compulsive gaming to alleviate discomfort.



Tolerance refers to the need for increasing amounts of the addictive activity to achieve the desired effect. In video gaming, this might mean playing for longer hours or engaging in more intense gaming activities to maintain the same level of excitement and satisfaction.


Neglecting Daily Life and Other Previously-Enjoyed Activities

Addiction often leads to the neglect of previously enjoyed activities. For video gamers, this can result in a decline in academic performance, job productivity, and social relationships. Hobbies, exercise, and other forms of recreation are all abandoned in favor of gaming.


Activity Concealment

Individuals addicted to gaming may resort to deception to hide the extent of their gaming habits. This can include lying to family members, friends, or employers about the time spent gaming and its impact on their lives.


Gaming to Escape or Relieve Negative Moods

Many addicted gamers use gaming as a coping mechanism to escape from real-life problems or to alleviate negative emotions such as loneliness, anxiety, and depression. This reliance on gaming for emotional regulation can perpetuate the addiction cycle.


“Video gaming has evolved from a niche pastime into a global phenomenon.


Overlap with Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction shares several similarities with video gaming addiction, as both involve compulsive engagement in an activity despite adverse consequences. The overlap is particularly evident in the following aspects:


Reward System Activation

Both video gaming and gambling activate the brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine and creating a sense of pleasure and reinforcement. This neurobiological response can lead to compulsive behavior as individuals seek to replicate the rewarding experience.


Stimulating Dopamine Hits and Chasing Losses

Many video games, especially those with loot boxes or microtransactions, mimic gambling by incorporating elements of chance and risk. Loot boxes in particular are virtual containers within video games that can give rewards to players —often for real money or gameplay progression. The unpredictability of rewards can create a gambling-like environment, fostering addictive behavior.



Both video gaming and gambling can serve as forms of escapism, allowing individuals to avoid real-life problems and stressors. This can lead to a cycle of addiction as individuals increasingly rely on these activities to manage their emotions.



Overlap with Sex and Pornography Addiction

Sex and pornography addictions also share commonalities with video gaming addiction, particularly in the context of compulsive behavior and its impact on daily life.


Compulsive Engagement

Like video gaming, sex and pornography addictions involve compulsive engagement in activities that provide short-term pleasure but lead to long-term negative consequences. Individuals may find it difficult to control their urges, leading to excessive consumption.


Impact on Relationships

All three addictions can significantly impact personal relationships. Addicted individuals may become isolated, withdraw from social interactions, and neglect their partners and family members in favor of their addictive activities.


Emotional Regulation

Sex and pornography, like gaming, can be used as tools for emotional regulation. Individuals may turn to these activities to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression, reinforcing the addiction cycle.


Video gaming addiction is a complex behavioral disorder with significant overlap with gambling, sex, and pornography addictions. Recognizing the warning signs, such as preoccupation, loss of control, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, neglect of other activities, deception, and the use of gaming to escape negative moods, is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Understanding the commonalities between these addictions can help in developing comprehensive approaches to address the underlying issues and promote healthier lifestyles.


The good news is, help is available! If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, there are ways to get things back on track. And by understanding how gaming addiction is similar to other addictions, we can create better solutions to help people live healthier, happier lives.

Learn more from the Birches Health ( clinical leadership team to better understand potential warning signs of video gaming addiction and its overlap with other behavioral and process addictions such as gambling disorder, compulsive sexual behaviors, sex addiction, and pornography addiction.