Recognizing addiction is a matter of recognizing one particular principle: if it causes a problem, it is a problem. If it is affecting your academics, professional success, relationships, physical health, mental health, then it is a problem.
The short answer is if it causes a problem it is a problem. The same line exists for video games. If you are seeing impacts in terms of your performance at school or in terms of who you are at home, then it is a problem.
Sometimes Dr. K asks parents: "When your child plays a video game do they become someone else, do they get really irritable, do they get super moody, do they become completely disrespectful?"
Parents often say, “Where did my child go? That's not the kid that they were two years ago. They're not my child. They’ve become someone else." They get so engrossed in the video game that they don't even seem like themselves.
A lot of people have addictive personalities. They usually say that they used to be addicted to video games, and are now addicted to alcohol, etc. They seem to trade one addiction for another and their conclusion is that they have an addictive personality. There is some neuroscience evidence supporting the existence of addictive personalities, but most of the time, people simply trade one addiction for another because they do not deal with the underlying cause of the addiction.
There is a concept from Buddhist philosophy called the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. In their mythology, they have heaven, earth, and hell. Between earth and hell, there is the realm of hungry ghosts. It is filled with souls that are always hungry and never feel full and satisfied. They eat forever and are never satisfied. That is quite similar to addiction.
People who are addicted are usually looking for something. If they try to fulfill these desires with one thing or another thing, it usually does not work.
For example, if someone has a bad sex addiction, usually what they are looking for is a connection with another human being. They use sex to fulfill these desires because that is when they experience these feelings of warmth from another human.
At their core, behavioral addictions have hungry ghosts in them. There is a part of them that feels unfulfilled and they turn to certain behaviors to satisfy that void. They bounce from one behavior to another to fulfill that need, but until they feel valued on a stable basis (or whatever they are trying to experience with the addiction), the addiction will not go away.
People with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) often have addictive behaviors and high-risk sexual behaviors. Their basic problem is that their sense of self is not well-formed. They feel empty inside. They fill themselves up with the way other people treat them. That causes them to engage in high-risk behaviors because the way they feel inside tends to be based on how other people treat them.
People can trade one addiction for another, and also throw themselves into work, but at the end of the day, unless they satisfy that need inside them, it will always be there and they will simply try to find other ways to satisfy it.
Often times, video games tend to fill that hole for gamers. People find it hard to quit games, especially when their primary community is the game because when they try, they feel a sense of emptiness inside them. The only way to resolve that addiction is to find a way to fill that hole without being addicted to something.
People use the same wisdom to combat today’s addictions (such as social media and video games) as the wisdom originally used to combat substance-use disorders such as alcohol or drug abuse. However, today’s addictions are fundamentally different than the addictions of the past, and therefore require new methods to combat them. Old methods such as abstinence can help, but they are not the only way.
Making a commitment to abstinence can feel very resolute and empowering, but in reality, the only action that can be taken is focusing on being abstinent today. Quitting cold turkey and maintaining it is a daily struggle and one would require pure willpower to stay away from desire. Most of the time, we are one bad day away from breaking the streak. However, those who are truly sober are the ones that do not have to fight their desire. They are the ones that choose a life without it.
The best thing to do, aside from abstinence, is figuring out what needs the addiction fulfills for you. The point of our community is not overcoming our addictions — rather, the point is to become free from our addictions and build a fulfilling life with our new freedom.