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How CBT Can Help Video Game Addiction

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Video games have been growing in popularity for decades. When gaming consoles and PCs first hit the market in the 70s and 80s, people could conveniently play their favorite arcade games without ever leaving the house. Fast forward to the late 90s and early 2000s, when multi-player role-playing games hit the scene, and gaming became more than just an individual experience – it became a way to meet and socialize with other like-minded individuals. In recent years, VR and AI (virtual reality and artificial intelligence) have taken the world of gaming to new, more realistic, and interactive heights.

While these advancements have helped create an authentic and entertaining experience for users, they’ve also had some less-than-positive side effects. The number of video game addicts is on the rise. Adolescents, teens, and even adults are spending hours a day gaming on consoles, PCs, and even mobile devices. For some, what started as an innocent hobby is now taking on a life of its own, creating significant damage in its wake. Depression, social isolation, financial hardship, and poor health and hygiene are just a few of the ways gaming addiction can negatively impact your life.

The good news is that with this increase in gaming dependency also comes an increase in resources, tools, and therapy options for overcoming video game addiction. In this article, we’ll discuss one such method known as CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. A popular form of therapy, CBT is used to treat everything from extreme fears and phobias to depression and, yes, video game addiction!

Let’s take a closer look at exactly what CBT is, how it works, and why it’s a viable option for gaming addicts.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on how our thoughts and beliefs directly affect our feelings and behaviors. By changing the way we think about something, CBT supporters believe it will eventually change our feelings about the subject and, in turn, our actions and behaviors.

Certain beliefs surround the efficacy of this therapy method, including:

  • Unhelpful thoughts and behavior can lead to psychological issues
  • People can alter their thoughts and learn to think and behave in more productive and beneficial ways
  • Adopting new, more positive habits can help ease certain mental and physical conditions

It’s also believed that CBT can teach people coping strategies to help them deal with specific challenges.

CBT and Video Game Addiction

When discussing CBT as it relates to addiction (including video game addiction), it’s believed that addicts choose these addictive behaviors over healthy ones based on their expectations. For example, if a person believes the addictive behavior (in this case, playing video games) will deliver a more positive outcome than an alternative behavior (such as exercising), he or she will choose the addiction. By changing how you think about these outcomes, you can change the action you take, choosing healthier behaviors and breaking the hold video games have on your life.

CBT also helps addicts identify self-defeating thoughts that may drive addiction. One of the most common forms of negative thinking is “all-or-nothing” thinking. Once addicts adopt this mind frame, they feel powerless against their addiction and believe they have no control over their behaviors. CBT helps addicts recognize what thoughts drive their addictive behaviors.

For example, someone who is depressed and lonely may adopt the mindset of, “I have no friends. No one likes me so I might as well play video games where the online community accepts me.” Before long, the gamer is losing connection with the outside world, damaging relationships, and feeding his or her depression. Another example is someone who is struggling at work or facing a dead-end job. Their mentality could be, “I’m a failure. I’ll never get promoted. At least when I play video games I win battles, earn rewards, and unlock levels.” Now, this gaming addict correlates video games with increased confidence and success.

CBT aims to change these negative patterns of thinking so that the outcome or choice is something other than video games. For gamers struggling at work, perhaps learning a new skill or attending training seminars would make them a better candidate for a promotion. Building their portfolio will help increase their confidence and productivity at work and elsewhere.

People using online communities as their only source of socialization might be encouraged to take an objective look at their personal lives. Perhaps they’re not losing friends because no one likes them. Maybe it’s because they’ve canceled plans or turned down invitations on multiple occasions, and their friends have stopped calling. By making a date to meet with friends in person, video game addicts soon realize that they are in fact well-liked. Attending community events or volunteering are also great ways to expand your friend circle and meet new people.

While research is still ongoing on the effectiveness of CBT on internet gaming disorder, studies suggest that as much as 70% of patients who underwent a 15-week CBT program achieved remission.

What is Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT) is similar to CBT with some notable differences. Another form of psychotherapy, ACT uses mindfulness and acceptance strategies together with CBT strategies to increase your mental flexibility and open your mind to alternative thoughts and behaviors.

This dual approach of CBT and ACT together is a popular choice for many therapists and online treatment programs aimed at treating a variety of addictions, including internet gaming disorder. The goal of ACT is to help patients cope with challenges and hardships without turning to their substance of choice – in this case, video games.

Mindfulness is a common tool used in acceptance commitment therapy to help people become aware of their inner experiences and how those experiences drive their behavior. This is an important step in separating the true meaning of their negative thoughts from the mistaken meanings they’re placing on those same thoughts. Mindfulness exercises increase mental flexibility, leaving addicts more open to other possibilities. ACT can also help gaming addicts identify their avoidant behaviors and address any emotional difficulties driving their addictive behaviors.

Common Triggers of Video Game Addiction

Because both CBT and ACT are designed to treat thoughts and feelings that drive behaviors, it’s important to cover what underlying mental health conditions and issues are most closely tied to video game addiction.

Some of the leading causes of gaming addiction include:

  • Extreme stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social isolation

It doesn’t help that video games are designed to be addictive and are only becoming more so as technology advances. Video games that offer an immersive experience deliver high amounts of dopamine, the same chemical associated with substance abuse addiction. Overexposure to these high levels of dopamine can change the structure of your brain. Video games also offer measurable progress and deliver the instant gratification we’ve all become so accustomed to. They provide a relatively safe, reliable environment where players feel in control of the outcomes. CBT and ACT can help gaming addicts regain control of their thoughts, behaviors, and outcomes in a world that exists outside their favorite video game.

Change Your Thoughts About Video Games

In life, too much of a good thing can have negative consequences. For thousands of people, this is true when it comes to video games. What starts as a relaxing form of entertainment quickly takes over their lives, leading to damaged relationships, financial trouble, and mental health disorders. By adopting a healthier mindset about video games and the role they play in your life, you can enjoy them in your free time without letting them take over the life you once knew.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

About the Author: Olivia Grace is a Clinical Psychologist at The Mindful Gamer who specializes in treating video game addiction. Olivia holds degrees with specializations in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for video game addiction.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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