Computer game addiction
Scientists agree on the classification of computer game addiction as behavioural addictions, i.e. substance-independent addictions. The 'Internet Gaming Disorder' or 'Gaming Disorder' has now been sufficiently investigated by experts that it will be listed in Version 11 of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) in mid-2018 as a category according to which doctors will be able to make a diagnosis in the future. Computer gaming addiction will most likely be recognised as a disease.
A number of studies have dealt with computer game addiction and internet addiction; here are two examples:
An exact classification as it will exist in the case of computer game addiction is not yet available in the case of so-called internet addiction. The term 'internet addiction' covers different phenomena depending on the source. Some scientists also see computer game addiction as an internet addiction if it is preferred to play online. However, this also refers to internet-based addictions such as social networks or internet pornography. In the process, those affected often lose contact with their environment and immerse themselves completely in their virtual world.
Caritas Passau’s addiction counselling can be a contact point for the treatment of internet-based addictions.
Helmut A. Höfl is the general manager of the 'Marriage, Family and Life Counselling' service of the diocese of Passau. He specialises in relationship-based couple and family counselling as well as psychological life and sexual counselling. In an interview with the counselling centre, the 61-year-old talks about the consequences of excessive porn consumption, what effects it can have on relationships between two people and what successful treatment against online sex addiction looks like.
Counselling centre: what is online sex addiction?
Helmut A. Höfl: Online sex addiction is an uncontrollable desire to watch porn on the internet, which is mainly triggered by stressful tension and unpleasant feelings, and more rarely also by sexual desire. Porn consumption is strongly linked to the neuronal reward system, whereby addictive behaviour has a regulative and reinforcing effect.
How does this addiction start?
Same as with any other addiction, online sex addiction also has a feedback effect between stimulus and reward, which usually compensates for an inner void or tension. In addition to physiological satisfaction, the illusory reward is particularly pronounced in this type of addiction. Because of the way many films are made, the viewer has the feeling of being there live. Looking into the camera suggests that he is also targeted and that the actors 'love' him. When this threshold is crossed and consumers no longer distinguish between illusion and reality, then it becomes dangerous. Because online sex addicts look for their surrogate in internet pornography, their substitute for bonding and love relationships.
Who is particularly often affected? Is there a certain age group or target group?
The prevalence, i.e. the frequency of getting sick, is between 17 and 25 years for young men. Approximately 17% of German men watch porn every day, and around 500,000 people in Germany are internet sex addicts. Affected people are often under stress, feel pressure to perform under high pressure – and use the instant online reward for physical relaxation. Often online sex addicts fall victim to their own obsessive perfectionism – or possibly the exact opposite: disorganised personality. It often affects those who are alone a lot and are afraid or ashamed of the 'you' of a real love relationship. This addiction is thus usually a problem for people who avoid relationships under stress.
How does online sex addiction differ from other addictions?
The physical aspects of addiction can also be pronounced in online sex addicts – the physical and relational consequences predominate. Some people view porn many times a day and satisfy their own needs. Each time, relaxing and numbing messengers are released in the brain. After the mostly ritual consumption many feel empty and disappointed. The problem with online sex addiction: those affected do not regulate their needs for intimacy, security, excitement and exploration in real relationships and condition themselves to turn to porn when they are irritated. They see images that become harder and harder and trigger shame and self-reproach.
At what point can it be called an addiction?
When people affected by tension, frustration or lack of concentration begin to imagine pornography and to search for it as if under duress. Above all these videos must become more and more seductive with time and the pictures must become more extreme, so that the affected persons can even reach the orgasm threshold. The attraction of taboos naturally also plays a role; therefore, affected people can also be easily tempted to watch videos and pictures on the Darknet with taboo or particularly brutal practices.
How does online sex addiction effect couple relationships or the ability to build relationships of those affected?
Affected men seeking seek help report that their ‘normal’ sexuality is disturbed and that it is hard or impossible for them to achieve and erection during sex with their partner. More and more couples use porn for joint arousal or watch it during the act of making love. Some lose the desire to be close partners and prefer to satisfy themselves. The partners no longer feel desired or come under pressure to imitate the situations seen in porn. The subtle nuances of the game between 'desire/refusal/acceptance' give way to fast sex, in which people get objectified.
What does the treatment/therapy look like?
The most important thing is that those affected acknowledge that they are porn addicts. This first, important step is followed by the decision for abstinence. Addicts distance themselves from computers, tablets and smartphones, so that they no longer have the opportunity to access the internet. Thereafter, positive ‘analogous’ experiences are needed. Examples include brisk walks, to feel your own body, to sense your own needs. This is followed by regulation of emotions. Online sex addicts have forgotten how to control their tensions and moods without certain 'means'. The treatment includes self-observation, stress-regulation exercises, relaxation procedures and self-strengthening, e.g. through a diary, where successes are documented. Through deeper observation and distancing, affected people learn to control themselves and slowly see sexuality as a rich repertoire of relationship building.
What is the hard part of the treatment?
The difficult part is that there are phases in which those affected feel empty and do not believe that the newly learned techniques work properly. This is similar to smoking. Smokers are conditioned to reduce stress with a cigarette and to create a sense of pleasure and tranquility. Those affected have to learn to practise deconditioning – and not to give up if they relapse.
To what extent does shame play a role in the treatment of online sex addicts?
'A very large one, because this topic is strongly associated with shame. It is never easy to admit addiction; many people are ashamed of not being able to control themselves. Many porn addicts use porn to compensate for shame and to counter negative feelings. It turns into a vicious cycle.
What can you do to prevent online sex addiction?
The best remedy in this situation is to establish relationships that provide security, where feelings are openly shared and needs are expressed. If you resort to porn, it must remain clear that this is the pretence of stereotypical patterns at the expense of abused and exploited actresses. The predictable artificiality of fake lust in the porn industry should be conscious. Your own imagination and the courage to invest in sexual relationships in body and soul is more helpful.
Thank you very much for the interview!
EFL Counselling Centre Passau, Höllgasse 29, 94032 Passau. Tel.: +49 851 34337 (8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.). Internet: www.efl-passau.de. Anonymous counselling is possible at the EFL counselling centre. If you suffer from sex addiction or have questions on this subject, please ask for an appointment with the head of the department, Helmut Höfl, and request anonymous advice.