It’s not easy to tell the exact moment when something you love turns into an obsession. Not that being obsessed with something is always a bad thing. A better word for something you’re completely into might be passion. Obsession has kind of a sinister ring to it. They do have similar meanings, though. An obsession is something you think of all the time and preoccupies your mind when you’re not doing it. A passion is something you also have an intense desire or unbridled enthusiasm for. Like an obsession, you may think about your passion all the time. You may be obsessed with internet gaming and passionate about playing. When you’re at school, you daydream about logging in. You imagine surrounding yourself with snacks, putting on your headphones, and settling down for a serious gaming marathon.
Nothing inherently wrong with that. People all over the world spend hours a day pursuing things they love. The problem with obsessions and passions is when your preoccupation with them starts to dominate your behavior to the detriment of things fundamental to your life as a teenager. When they damage your relationships with family and friends, your schoolwork, your sleeping patterns, and your overall health and well-being, that’s not a good thing. You may have noticed that sentence pretty much amounts to a simplified definition of addiction. Which, very loosely speaking, is something you keep doing even when you know it’s bad for you. Something that dominates your thought and behavior in an unhealthy way.
How Can You Tell If Your’e Addicted?
You may ask yourself this question: can you be addicted to playing video games on the internet the same way you can be addicted to alcohol, drugs, or gambling? Mental health professionals say yes, you can. They even included a new category in their mental health bible, the DSM-V. They call it Internet Gaming Disorder. You can download the official fact sheet here. Scroll down the page to the “Updated Disorders” section and click “Internet Gaming Disorder.”
Or you can take the following test and decide for yourself if your gaming has crossed the line from passionate obsession to a problem addiction.
Internet Gaming Disorder: The Simplified Self-Assessment
[Note: this assessment does not take the place of an official evaluation conducted by a mental health professional. A medical diagnosis of any addiction disorder requires a consultation with a fully licensed and certified therapist or psychiatrist.]
Answer each question with a simple “yes” or “no.”
- Spend a lot of time thinking about games even when you are not playing or planning when you can play next?
- Become restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious, or sad when attempting to cut down or stop gaming or when you are unable to play?
- Feel the need to play for increasing amounts of time, play more exciting games, or use more powerful equipment to get the same amount of excitement you used to get?
- Think you should play less but are unable to cut back on the amount of time you spend playing games?
- Lose interest in or reduce participation in other recreational activities (hobbies, meetings with friends) due to gaming?
- Continue to play games even though you are aware of negative consequences, such as not getting enough sleep, being late to school/work, spending too much money, having arguments with others, or neglecting important duties?
- Lie to family, friends, or others about how much you game or try to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you game?
- Game to escape from or forget about personal problems or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?
- Risk or lose significant relationships or job, educational, or career opportunities because of gaming?
How to Score the Test
Add up your “yes” answers. If you answer yes to one or two questions, your gaming is probably fine – you’re passionate, but your passion is not problematic. Yes answers to three to five questions mean your gaming is on the verge of crossing over from a fun diversion to something that may harm your day-to-day life. If you answer yes to six or more questions, it’s time to consider the idea that your gaming habit is no longer harmless and has a significant negative impact on your life. Pay special attention to questions six through nine. Yes answers to those mean more than yes answers to the first couple, and it’s easy to see why: they’re admissions your gaming leads to things you don’t want in your life, such as poor school performance, lying to friends and family, and problems with work and important relationships.
I Think I Have a Problem – What Should I do?
If you took the test and answered yes to a majority of the questions, then the first thing to do is give yourself props for being honest with yourself – that’s not easy. The second thing to do is understand how important it is that you recognize and admit you have a problem – that’s the first step toward solving it. The third thing to do is talk to your parents, primary caregivers, or legal guardians and tell them you want to seek professional help for your gaming problem. To find a qualified mental health professional in your area, use this Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder provided by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.