Are cell phone use and gaming considered addictions?

Many teens (and parents!) wonder if their cell phone and video game use is an addiction. Today, it is so common to carry and use a phone, that we do so without even thinking about if it is a good or bad thing. That holds true for video games as well: they are so much fun that often we just play them and don’t think about the possible impact they are having on our lives.

Determining if cell phone use or video game time is an addiction goes back to the discussion Steve was having with Harrison: Just when do you know if you have an addiction?

First, these activities do release dopamine in the brain. You know from reading the brain sub-post that dopamine is associated with the formation of habits and addictions, so from a brain science perspective (viewpoint) cell phones and video games can be cause for concern in regard to addiction.

Second, when determining if a person does have an addiction, one of the questions used to assess that is: Is this behavior or substance use causing problems in a person’s life? With cell phones and video games, answering that can become a little tricky. Many parents will say “Yes! My child’s phone use is a problem!” while the child would say, “Totally not a problem!” But, before you move on and just rack that parental complaint up to “old people,” think about what you learned in the brain sub-post. Those brain changes cause all sorts of weird thinking patterns, including denial (I don’t have a problem!). So it becomes rather important not to brush off the complaints of other people, but to self-reflect and think about how an activity is impacting your life.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself in looking at whether or not you may be verging on addictive behavior (or full-on in addictive behavior!): 

– Do I have problems withdrawing or stopping the behavior? (i.e., do you get irritated when someone asks you to stop? Do you feel agitated if you can’t play or use the phone?

Have you ever lied to anyone about your use or extent of your behavior? (i.e., Do you hide your phone under the pillow at night to keep it a secret from your parents?  Do you deny the time you have spent gaming?”

Do you crave the behavior? (i.e., Do you have problems focusing on your school work because you want to play a game or snap with your friends? 

Is the behavior negatively impacting other areas of your life? (i.e., Are your grades down because you play so much?  Are you no longer exercising because you are playing games all the time?”

If you have trouble answering these questions or if your friends tell you your answers are not accurate, those are also signs that you could be denying that you are in trouble with addiction. 

Luckily, for many teens, their cell phone and gaming use isn’t quite an addiction YET, but a poor habit. Have you ever tried to break a habit? They’re difficult to break because they happen without you thinking. For instance, every morning you check your phone for new messages, that’s a common habit. But, in a short time, you start to spend an hour doing it and forget breakfast and miss the bus and grades begin to slip (so you are starting to verge on addiction, as the answer to the last question above is YES). The first step, then, is to become aware of the habit. Pulling something out of your “habit” brain-centers to your “awareness” brain-centers takes a lot of energy! That’s why it’s so difficult. But when you spend the energy to do it a few times (I’ll wait until I’m on the bus to check my messages) then a new habit forms and you can move toward healthy use and away from possible addiction.

However, to be clear, many individuals do suffer from addiction to video games and other behaviors. In fact, there are treatment centers that specialize in gaming addiction. If you feel like this could be you or someone you know, reach out to a trusted adult for help.

Post Question:

At what point do YOU think cell phone use becomes an addiction?

Answer the post question here

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