Gaming May Lead to Dangerous, Addictive Behaviors


Struggling to keep the video game controller out of your kids’ hands? While playing video games may seem like a harmless activity for adolescents, gaming may be more dangerous than parents think.

“As adults, many aspects of our bodies such as our eyes and brain are developed. Our children are still developing, so we are seeing how increased screen time can affect development and cause other long-term effects,” said Recovery Center Director, Taya Vonnahme, MSN, RN, ARNP, CADC.

Gaming addiction is a diagnosable medical condition by the World Health Organization. When video game play takes up significantly more time than the other activities in your life, it is a sign that there is a problem. Gaming addiction has become increasingly more prevalent as access to devices and a variety of games increases daily, and it does not discriminate based on age or status.

Whether it’s you or a loved one, signs that there is a gaming addiction include becoming distressed or on edge when asked to stop, inability to stop thinking about gaming while not playing, and various other signs that mimic substance abuse withdrawal.

As with any medical condition, there are health risks that can amplify and worsen over time if not addressed. Some of these risks that can result from video game addiction are:

  • Lack of social engagement
  • Problems concentrating on tasks
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lack of adequate sleep
  • Failure to complete school/family/work-related obligations
  • Loss of appetite
  • Reduced physical exercise
  • Anxiety/irritability/anger/agitation.

If you are seeing any of these symptoms in yourself, some things you can do to redirect your addiction would be to set firm boundaries for yourself, find other hobbies you enjoy to occupy your time, avoid people or situations that encourage gaming, join a support group, focus on your physical health, and get professional mental health support.

“Gaming addiction is something we are all continuing to learn about and figure out how to teach balance in a child’s life. This starts with our own examples in the home and around our children. We are working hard to continue to educate ourselves and promote healthy habits with children and adults in the community,” Vonnahme shared.

Could Gaming Lead to Gambling Issues?

One major aspect of gaming addiction is gambling. Young people are getting exposed to gambling at earlier ages than ever before – not only in traditional forms like casinos, lotteries, or sports betting, but in new, less obvious forms like gaming, loot boxes, and fantasy sports. Research shows that children introduced to “harmless betting” by age 12 are four times more likely to engage in problem gambling later. A teen’s brain isn’t wired yet to weigh risks and make healthy choices. So that “win” on an online game today can lead to the negative side effects of real-life gambling tomorrow.

Gambling disorders can begin in children as young as ten years old, and problem gambling impacts about 4-8% of youths as compared to only 1% of adults. Additionally, gambling can serve as a gateway addiction as teens who gamble are more likely to engage in the use of illegal drugs. Risk factors leading to adolescent gambling can include, but are not limited to suicidal ideation or behaviors, a close family member with a gambling problem, major negative life events or traumatic experiences, excessive video game use, disconnection from family, poor coping skills, and theft/fighting/violence.

Early warning signs that your adolescent may be addicted to gambling could be any of the following:

  • Showing less interest in activities
  • Changes in their attitude with school (missed classes, incomplete assignments, lower grades)
  • Behavior changes (more aggression, defensiveness, signs of anxiety/depression)
  • Noticeable interest in competition/winning/being right
  • Missing cash or finding stashed cash your child is keeping
  • Increased time spent online – especially in secret

All these early warning signs, if left undetected and treated, can all become problematic when they interfere with school/work/other activities, cause problems with family and friends, lead to isolation and loneliness, contribute to alcohol/drug misuse, bring safety concerns, or create financial stressors.

As with any addictive behavior, there are steps you can take to reduce the risks of your child being influenced. Talk to your child about the risks of gambling, model responsible behavior related to gambling, monitor your adolescent’s computer and cellphone usage, limit their access to money – including credit cards, get help for mental health and substance use concerns, and strengthen important relationships in your child’s life (i.e.: parent-child, extended family, friends, and other key adults).

If you need help or guidance, or are looking for support and resources, we encourage you to reach out to your family care provider or contact the Recovery Center at (712) 655-2300.