Gaming Disorder: The 3 definitive (and measurable) warning signs.

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How would you know you’re (or someone you care about) plays too many hours of video games? Are you a problem gamer? Do you have gaming disorder? Do you know someone that is? Where would your life be in the next 6-12 months if you gamed less?  How would your personal and business life change? How would your health and habits change? Are you even aware of how much you are actually gaming?

Again, how would you know you’re (or someone you care about) plays too many hours of video games? You might have had the thought once a while, perhaps after staying up to 2:47am for the second night in a row, or blinking your very very dry eyes realizing you’ve gamed for 5 hours straight, or maybe you forgot to eat that day because you gamed through two meals? Some may say it’s part of the video game world and that it’s “normal”.

However, we need easy and measurable signs to see if video game use is getting out of hand. I struggled with these questions for my own video game usage and came up with 3 definitive and measurable warning signs that it might be time to back off the video games. Note: I’m not saying the hours gaming alone defines a gaming disorder, rather it’s a clear metric to stop and reflect on if gaming is destructive in other ways, which does indicate a gaming disorder:

Sign #1: You game longer than you sleep at least once in the past month. No matter how you cut it, if you ever game longer than you sleep, you may be gaming too much. Even if you sleep 8 hours, but game 9 hours…that’s a lot of gaming. If you game 7 hours and sleep 6 hours, then you’re gaming is interfering with your sleep. This is a clear sign of gaming disorder.

Sign #2: You play over 14 hours a week…fitting the definition of a “heavy gamer”. I found no clear definition for a “heavy gamer” so I looked at the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) guidelines for “heavy drinking”. Yes, it may sound harsh to compare gaming to drinking, yet it’s a useful comparison, at least to get a clear definition down. According to the CDC1, if a male drinks over 14 standard drinks a week (the CDC rounds up to 15, I say it makes more sense to say over 14 drinks), than he is a heavy drinker.

Replace the term “standard drink” with “standard hour” and now we have an easy definition of a heavy gamer. If you game over 14 hours a week (over 2 hours a day), you may want to hit pause and reflect for a moment because you now fit the definition of a heavy gamer. If you game over 14 hours a week, you are looking at nearly a half-time job’s worth of time devoted to gaming. Did you game over 14 hours a week in the last month? It may be time to game less. If you are a ‘heavy gamer’, it would be a clear sign of ‘gaming disorder’.

Sign #3: You play over 4 hours straight, without a 2 hour continuous break in between…fitting the definition of a “Binge Gamer”. If you scroll up on the CDC’s website from “heavy drinking”, you’ll find a definition of “binge drinking” that easily defines “binge gaming”2. A male binge drinker has to consume over 4 drinks within a 2-hour period (CDC rounds up to 5, which should more accurately be written as ‘over 4 drinks’). If we replace “standard drink” with “standard hour”, we get a similar definition for binge gaming.

If you game for over 4 hours, without at least a 2-hour continuous break in between to ‘detox’ (like a drinker needs time to detox his liver), you fit the definition of a binge gamer. If you game for 3 hours, take 1 hour break, then game for another 2 hours, you’re still a binge gamer because you didn’t take a continuous 2 hours during your 4+ hours of gaming. Again, hit pause if you have done this at least once in the past month…it may be time to game less.

There are other warning signs3 that are less measurable, but just as important: 

  1. Preoccupation with gaming,
  2. Withdrawal,
  3. Tolerance (needing more stimulation for the same result),
  4. Unable to reduce/stop,
  5. Giving up other activities,
  6. Continuing to game despite problems,
  7. Deception/covering up gaming,
  8. Gaming to escape adverse moods,
  9. Risk/lose relationships due to gaming.

These 9 criteria for gaming disorder are becoming more accepted as markers for identifying a video game problem.  Yet, these 9 criteria aren’t always easy to identify and quantify. Providing 3 definitive signs (gaming longer than you sleep, “heavy gaming”, and “binge gaming”) provide a quick measuring tool for any concerned gamer (or concerned parent or spouse of a gamer) that it might be time to game less.

Conclusion: If you have any of the 3 definitive measurable warning signs to game less, it’s time to hit pause and reflect if you have a problem or not with video games.  Look into the future for the next 6-12 months, even project into the next 5 years…where will you be if you continue this level of gaming? Where will your personal life be? Your dating life? Your love life? Your family life? Your professional life? Your financial life? Does gaming to this degree help you accomplish any of your goals? Consider getting more information on gaming disorder and take action.


  1. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <>
  2. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <>
  3. Pontes, H. M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and Validation of a Short Psychometric Scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.006.

About the author:

Dr. Shay overcame his 25+ year video game addiction. He now helps others overcome their video game addictions naturally, both in his clinic in New Zealand as a functional medicine practitioner, functional testing clinician, doctor of chiropractic, acupuncturist, and functional neurologist, as well as coaching worldwide via Skype. Learn more about his story in this video below:

Dr. Shay is also the author the ebook: “Unplug from Gaming Disorder: 7 Simple Ways to Game Less”
Available at

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[Comment section: Suggestions are welcome to for alternatives to video games that accomplish some or all of the 5 ways video games are used as parenting tools for behavior and time management].

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