Home » Articles » LukeNotes » Habit versus Addiction: Case Study
Download PDF version of this article

Habit versus Addiction: Case Study

Lukenotes, Summer 2019

Samuel is a 23-year-old Caucasian in his first year of theology at a diocean seminary. He was always involved with video games and considered gaming a hobby. Since entering seminary, he found that playing video games lessened his anxiety about his academic performance and making friends with fellow seminarians.

Samuel would typically play video games for two hours in the evenings after classes and dinner. However, during the spring semester, he found that he would often plan to play for only an hour, but end up spending three hours or more a night engaged in video games that also had an online chatting element.

Behavioral Changes

As a result of the long hours, Samuel was often late for Mass, and on occasion, would sleep through it. In addition to playing daily video games, he often talked about the games and his excitement about reaching new levels. This led to some teasing by his peers. During Lent, Samuel attempted to cut out video games, but was feeling depressed and highly anxious after stopping, so he went back to playing them after five days. During finals, he was forced to ask for extensions on two of his papers due to poor time management.

Naming the Concern

Around this same time, Samuel’s spiritual director, Fr. Paul, recognized his increased anxiety and inquired about what was happening. Samuel shared that he tried to cut-back his video game usage, but as a result, was finding it hard to “wind down“ at night and was not sleeping well. He also reported that he found it hard to concentrate on his work. These difficulties made him worry about his grades, causing an overall increase in his anxiety. When asked how much time he was spending gaming, Samuel minimized the extent of time and only reported an hour of use at night.

His spiritual director did not feel that the time frame sounded significant, so he encouraged him to pray about it but did not express any concern about the hour of nightly video gaming. However, during finals week, Samuel become tearful during a meeting with Fr. Paul and shared with him that he had not been honest about the amount of time he was spending on the games, and as a result of his usage, was significantly behind on his assignments. Fr. Paul told Samuel he was concerned about his over-reliance on gaming and recommended he see a therapist to explore whether underlying emotions or needs are factors.

During spiritual direction, Fr. Paul also discussed the ways in which areas of challenge in his spiritual life were possibly contributing to his video game usage. Although initially hesitant, Samuel agreed to undergo a brief assessment by a psychologist trained in addictions. This assessment found he met the criteria for an internet addiction and the evaluation recommended therapy.

Control Management

After six months of individual therapy and spiritual direction addressing the emotional and spiritual voids that his use of video gaming was seeking to fill, albeit unsuccessfully, Samuel was managing his video game usage in a healthier way. He learned healthy coping skills for managing his anxiety and cut back to only spending an hour or two on the weekends playing video games with others who were physically present with him. In addition, he gained insight into the ways in which online video gaming was serving to fulfill his desire for social connection through the conversations with others who were playing virtually. However, he was not actually developing intimate relationships, which further contributed to social isolation from his peers and only increased his anxiety.

With the help of his therapist, he began to develop closer relationships with peers and did not feel as much of an urge for online communications. Although Samuel still had to remain vigilant about utilizing healthy coping skills to avoid slipping back into an addictive cycle, he identified feeling more in-control, less anxious, and more connected with his peers as a result of opening up about his problem and seeking help.

For confidentiality reasons, names, identifying data, and other details of treatment have been altered.