Teen playing video gameQ: Our 18-year-old son started playing video games at age 9 and became addicted gradually. We struggled with him over the years to limit the time he was online. It became the center of his world, especially when he hit puberty and was dealing with insecurity, anxiety, and depression. The games became more and more violent. He withdrew socially and just recently dropped out of college in the first month of his freshman year. He denies having an addiction but has ceased to do anything but play the games all night and sleep all day. His only friends are those who play games with him online. We are trying to get him into a Video Game Addiction Detox program, if there is such a thing, but he is 18 and refuses to go. What do we do?

Desperate for Detox, in Miami, FL

A: Dear Desperate,

Your story is heartbreaking and, unfortunately, not unique. Without more information and getting to talk to your son directly, I can’t offer anything that can be construed as medical advice. What I can offer is observations on what you have shared and some thoughts about choices you might make. For a definitive plan, seek out the professional advice of someone who knows your son well, a primary care doctor, psychologist, even a former college advisor or school guidance counselor.

You are absolutely right that your son is legally an adult and thus must seek professional help himself. However, as with those addicted to alcohol or other substances, you son may be oblivious to the harm and disability that is obvious to those around him. It’s likely that your son may have begun using video games to distract himself, to “self-medicate” his anxiety and depression. Video games allow users to master environments and can give players a sense of control and self-confidence within these virtual worlds that they may not experience outside of the game. What makes your son’s gaming problematic is that it is consuming his efforts in a way that prevents him from achieving larger life goals. Since your son can’t be admitted to therapeutic care without his consent, the best solution may be to stage an intervention—just as you might if he were addicted to alcohol or drugs.

First, educate and empower yourself with strategies and resources for interventions.  There are professional interventionists who can help you through the process if you decide that’s the best route to take. It sounds as if your goal is for your son to agree to entering treatment, so part of your preparation will be to identify a specialist and/or facility where he can receive treatment for anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviors, and video game addiction. You will need to be prepared to admit your son into care immediately following the intervention, as that is when he will be most willing to go.

The intervention will likely involve gathering some close, trusted family members and friends (maybe even some gaming friends) who care about him and whom he trusts, and then confronting him about the issue in a way that is clear, and, most importantly, from a place of love and concern. Tell him that you all have noticed that his video game play has hurt his physical and mental health and that all of you want him to seek out treatment so that he will be happier, healthier, and more able to pursue his life goals. Please keep me updated about how it goes, I am certain that other parents will benefit from your experience.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®


7 Responses to “My 18-year-old son is addicted to video games, what can I do?”

  1. staceybeck01

    Sometimes>mental health and addiction go hand in hand. I know I don’t know him but try to think of ways for him to stretch his mind with out electronics. It helps when he can interact with other people, help him get involved in a sport of club!

  2. Kathy

    I too have a son who is overly involved with games, has anxiety and has had depression. Because he is an adult I have insisted he take on adult responsibilities slowly. First he had to get a part time job. I had to drive him around watch him go in, sometimes follow him in and act like a customer, sometimes stand over him while he filled out the application. Kindly explain that he has to pay for the internet. Allow him to feel proud of this accomplishment. He won’t at first he will be angry but eventually he will. At this point my son works almost full time (he needs a job with a better future.) pays for his phone, his car payment ( it’s my loan but he pays it),has a credit card he pays on time( I didn’t allow him to get the card until he was 22)
    He also pays me rent. His rent is enough to prove to himself that he could afford to rent a place himself. I’ve told him I am saving the rent so he will be able to pay first, last and security when he gets his own place. Ask your son at what age he sees himself on his own. My son said 26 so I accepted that and helped him take steps toward that goal. We have both been in therapy. Tell your son he has to go to therapy or you will get rid of all internet connection. A good therapist will help him feel better about himself and that’s a good thing. Good luck

    • Yvonna Hooper

      I know where you are coming from. I am there now, well have been and still am. Would like to talk sometime about my boys. Thank you for your post.

  3. My son is exactly the same.

    Why did all of you responders miss the fact he’s 18? He needs tough love at this point, something he obviously didn’t get as a child. At some point you will have to force him to take care of himself. If he didn’t make the choice himself by Joe , he is not going too, he will sit on his ass 19 hours a day on a phone or game system and eat at the same time , then sleep the remaining.


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