Video Game Withdrawal: What’s it Like?
People are often surprised when they learn that video game withdrawal is possible. After all, gaming is a behavior, not a substance. People experience withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs because a substance the body has come to need is suddenly gone. With gaming, the body doesn’t become addicted to a substance. Nonetheless, people can become addicted to gaming and thus experience video game withdrawal.
Even though it’s not a substance that is put into the body and interferes in the brain’s normal operations, there seems to be a bit of a biological component to gaming addiction. Much is still currently unknown, but researchers are discovering that behavioral addictions like gaming raise dopamine levels in the brain.
Dopamine is a neurochemical associated with pleasure and the one largely behind addiction.
Addiction is about more than neurochemistry. It has a psychological component, too. Sometimes, playing video games is a way to escape unpleasant situations and people. It feels much better to live in the fantasy world of gaming than it does to live in the real world full of difficulties. Escaping to feel better is a powerful reason to play. When this happens, gaming can become addictive (What is Gaming Disorder? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment).
Part of addiction is the inability to stop playing. When someone does try to stop, he or she can experience video game withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can be miserable.
Video Game Withdrawal Is All-Encompassing
Video game withdrawal can cause significant distress. It causes a variety of symptoms and affects thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Because gaming isn’t a chemical dependency, physical withdrawal symptoms aren’t as severe as they are in a substance withdrawal, but they do exist.
Headaches and fatigue are common physical video game withdrawal symptoms. Also, stopping video games can create new anxiety or exacerbate existing anxiety. During the withdrawal period, it’s possible to experience physical symptoms of anxiety.
Emotional symptoms can make people feel unstable, overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged. Feelings and symptoms commonly experienced during video game withdrawal are
- Low mood
- Sadness, despair
- Mood swings
- Emptiness or feeling flat
- Desire to be back with online gaming friends
- Vague but sometimes intense anxious feelings
These emotions can be very difficult to handle because of their intensity and unpredictability (How to Help Your Child Addicted to Video Games). People going through video game withdrawal report feeling out of control, which creates a new emotion: fear of losing oneself.
Emotions go together with thoughts. Thoughts are just as challenging as emotions. During video game withdrawal, thoughts are frequently unfocused and scattered. Conversely, they can be hyper-focused on gaming. When experiencing withdrawal, thinking and problem-solving can be tough. Thoughts also involve such things as:
- Rationalizing why it’s okay to play video games, how gaming isn’t interfering in life
- Urges to play that won’t let up
- Remembering the fun associated with gaming (and discounting the problems)
- Anxious thoughts, worries, and fears
- Obsessions about fellow gamers and online friends
Thoughts and feelings impact actions. Withdrawal from video games leads to specific behaviors:
- Restlessness and an inability to settle into anything
- Emotional outbursts
- Lack of motivation that appears lazy (this can be a source of tension in relationships)
- Defiance, such as refusing to do anything, even eating or sleeping, in order to protest the removal of video games
Withdrawal is Miserable but Temporary
The only good thing about video game withdrawal is that it doesn’t last. If your gaming addiction is extreme, the above withdrawal symptoms might be very strong for several days before they gradually begin to calm down. Withdrawal can last for weeks or months, depending on the individual, but symptoms do subside. You may be able to ease the effects of gaming withdrawal by using Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGANON)or video game rehab
As you learn to replace video games with other activities you enjoy, your video game withdrawal will come to an end and you’ll feel better, once again able to enjoy life.
Last Updated: 27 July 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD