For most consumers, playing video games is a harmless pastime, but for others it spirals out of control and becomes an addiction with very real offline consequences.

In a new report in Vice, Cecilia D’Anastasio dives into a multitude of effects that video game addiction causes. The constant use of video games has been linked to creating attention deficit disorders and anxiety.

Treatment programs with support groups such as Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAA) have gained wider traction as addicts try to cope with life without video games. And not all of them are youngsters: D’Anastasio recounts the story of 69-year-old Patricia and draws many parallels between drug addiction and video game addiction, including withdrawal symptoms such as “sleeplessness, anxiety and hallucinations.” Vice reports:

Experts estimate that more than 3 million Americans between eight and 18 could be suffering from video game dependency. And medical authorities are finally noticing. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recently christened the phenomenon as “internet gaming disorder.” The DSM warns that such “persistent and recurrent online activity results in clinically significant impairment or distress,” adding that certain neural pathways are triggered just like a drug addicts’ would be when ingesting their substance of choice. To put that comparison in perspective, there could be about 1 million more diagnosable dependent gamers in America than coke addicts.

[…] Games like World of Warcraft aren’t inherently evil or even inherently habit-forming. In fact, all the addicts interviewed—they prefer to be called “addicts” regardless of their recovery status, like AA members—stressed that their game of choice was irrelevant to their gaming dependency. They latched on to a variety of games ranging from Tetris to Halo.

“It’s not about the games,” said the 21-year-old Conor S., a gaming addict I connected with over the internet. “It’s like asking a recovered alcoholic what they used to drink. It’s all about this,” he said, motioning to his head over Skype.

DansNewLife, a Reddit commenter on a gaming-addiction forum, speaks from personal experience: “The addict seeks relief from distress—think of how highly motivated you are to take your hand off a hot stove. When you stop, all the bad stuff keeps rushing back … for an addict, stopping means returning to a very painful, tortured existence.”

–Posted by Donald Kaufman

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