With an ever-growing multitude of platforms through which children can access online games – smartphones, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch – it can feel impossible to prevent children from spending hours in their rooms or sitting in front of the television. As well as being a fun way to pass the time, video games can be used within school curriculums and are thought to provide mental stimulation [1, 2].
In 2016, a survey found that 98% of homes in Australia with children had computer games available . With a growing epidemic of children displaying addictive behaviours around gaming, in 2013, Internet Gaming Disorder – gaming addiction – was proposed to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  and was added to the substance-related and addictive disorders section of the DSM-5.
While it is a new area, recent research suggests that Internet Gaming Disorder may be most accurately classified as an addictive disorder . Similarities have been found between Internet Gaming Disorder and other addictions in the way that the dopamine reward system is activated [2, 4].
Essentially, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps us to feel pleasure and it is released in the brain during pleasurable activities which makes us more likely to repeat those behaviours again and again such as eating or spending time with loved ones . In this way, dopamine reinforces pleasurable activities.
Online gaming may provide children with feelings of achievement, and those with Internet Gaming Disorder may be less sensitive to rewards (i.e., this feeling of achievement), therefore, they need to spend more time gaming to feel rewarded . Hence setting up a pattern of addiction.
The DSM-5 found that males aged 12 to 20 are the most common people who are diagnosed with Internet Gaming Disorder . They also suggested individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be at higher risk of developing Internet Gaming Disorder, given the impulsive nature of person’s with ADHD. The severity of ADHD symptoms has been correlated with an increase in the severity of gaming addiction .
Other risk factors for children developing Internet Gaming Disorder are:
So how can parents tell whether their child’s hobby has become an addiction? And what can parents do about it? Here are the top 8 signs that your child may be addicted to gaming:
1. A preoccupation with video games
As video games are a popular pastime for children and adults alike, it can be hard to know what constitutes playing them for “too long.” The DSM-5  suggests children with Internet Gaming Addiction can spend up to eight to ten hours per day and up to 30 hours per week playing video games.
2. Giving up other activities such as hobbies or responsibilities
An important question to ask is: is my child giving up other hobbies or responsibilities in order to play video games? If your child has stopped completing their homework, seeing their friends, or engaging in other hobbies such as sports, they may be playing video games too much.
3. Needing to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
Another thing to keep in mind is whether your child is displaying the need to play an increasing amount of time playing video games in order to feel satisfied. This is known as tolerance, a sign of addiction in other addictive disorders (similar to someone with a Substance Use Disorder needing to drink more alcohol to become inebriated).
4. Becoming emotional when video games are removed
A sign of an unhealthy relationship with video games is if your child becomes hostile, anxious, or sad when you take away access. If you have noticed video games having a negative impact on your child as described above, yet they still become emotional when they are removed, this may be a warning sign. In the DSM-5, this emotional response is considered to be a sign of withdrawal from video games.
5. An inability to reduce playing time
A child with gaming addiction may continue to game for extended periods of time despite knowing they need to reduce their gaming time.
6. Continuing to game despite problems
Even though a child may be aware of the negative consequences of their gaming, such as impaired sleeping, feeling chronically tired, not meeting their responsibilities, increased arguing with family members, or feeling moody, an addicted child may continue to game despite their problems.
7. Deceiving family members about when they are playing
Another sign of addiction is if your child tries to conceal or hide how much time they are spending on their gaming, or, if they are sneaking access behind their parents back, despite knowing they are not meant to be on their gaming devices.
8. Using games to relieve negative moods
Gaming can be used as an escape or a relief from negative moods, setting up a dependence on gaming to feel good. This is another sign of addiction.
In summary, if you identify with several of these warning signs, it is possible that your child may be addicted to video games. It may be time to consult with a child psychologist for help as left untreated, Gaming Addiction can have a significant long-term impact on your child’s future and your child may start to struggle with life in the real world.
Understanding and treating this new diagnosis is still under evaluation, however, there is research evidence emerging that shows that cognitive-behavioural therapy programs are effective in helping adolescents with Internet Gaming Disorder .
Components of cognitive-behavioural therapy programs to address Internet Gaming Disorder  include:
If you are interested in consulting with a CBT Professionals Psychologist here on the Gold Coast, then please download our Referral Fact Sheet and take it with you to your extended consultation with your GP so that you can discuss an appropriate referral pathway for your child.
We look forward to working with you.
Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.
Blog written by CBT Professionals Psychologist Madeline Stainsby and Dr. Karen Gallaty on the Gold Coast. CBT Professionals are a team of psychologists on the Gold Coast with offices in Coomera and Nerang. Gold Coast CBT psychologists offer services to adults, children, couples and families. Please call and make an appointment on 5551 0251.
1. Bond University, Digital Australia Report. 2016.
2. Palaus, M., et al., Neural basis of video gaming: A systematic review. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 2017. 11: p. 248.
3. American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). 2013: American Psychiatric Pub.
4. Vaccaro, A.G. and M.N. Potenza, Diagnostic and Classification Considerations Regarding Gaming Disorder: Neurocognitive and Neurobiological Features. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2019. 10: p. 405.
5. Dong, G. and M.N. Potenza, A cognitive-behavioral model of Internet gaming disorder: theoretical underpinnings and clinical implications. Journal of psychiatric research, 2014. 58: p. 7-11.
6. Mathews, C.L., H.E. Morrell, and J.E. Molle, Video game addiction, ADHD symptomatology, and video game reinforcement. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 2019. 45(1): p. 67-76.
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8. Wölfling, K., et al., Efficacy of Short-term Treatment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction: A Randomized Clinical TrialEfficacy of Short-term Treatment of Internet and Computer Game AddictionEfficacy of Short-term Treatment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction. JAMA Psychiatry, 2019.
9. Torres-Rodríguez, A., M.D. Griffiths, and X. Carbonell, The Treatment of Internet Gaming Disorder: a Brief Overview of the PIPATIC Program. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 2018. 16(4): p. 1000-1015.