Video Game Addiction is Real, and a New Mental Health Disorder, Experts Say

(Photo: Stock photo)
(Photo: Stock photo)

Gaming disorder is a real addiction, and it's being added to the World Health Organization's roster of mental health conditions next year.

Gaming disorder will join gambling disorder under "disorders due to addictive behaviors" in the diagnostic manual used by the World Health Organization, according to Psychology Today. As with other addictive behaviors, gaming disorder is a pattern of behavior online or offline that includes impaired control, increased priority to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities, and escalation of gaming activity despite negative consequences.

Playing games isn't the problem, experts say; it's when games become more important than real life over a long period of time, or people get so caught up in games that they ruin relationships and lose jobs.

Classifying an activity as a mental health condition is all about context, according to a column in Forbes by Bruce Y. Lee, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins.

"Practically any activity, even those seemingly good and necessary, can become mental health issues when you no longer can control the activity and the activity starts interfering with your life," Lee wrote.

A study published in 2009 in Psychological Science found that 8.5 percent of Americans between the ages of eight and 18 exhibited "pathological video game use." But the average gamer is a 35-year-old male, and there have been numerous cases of adults losing their jobs or marriages due to overplaying video games, according to Lee.

Lee suggested modifying a questionnaire used to detect alcohol addiction, with these questions:

-- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your gaming?

-- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your gaming?

-- Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your gaming?

-- Are video games the first thing you think about in the morning when you wake up?

Other warning signs include changes in your moods and habits depending on gaming, whether gaming use increases in time, ability to cut down and maintain control, and the duration of behaviors: is it the occasional binge or a real, persistent problem? Addictive behaviors are usually in evidence for a year or more, experts say.

And yet, 97 percent of U.S. children play video games for at least an hour a day, according to a 2014 study by the American Psychological Association, almost equally divided between boys and girls. And while some studies have shown possible negative effects such as violence and depression, there are also positive effects on cognitive development, mood management, attention and social benefits, according to the study.

Moderation is the key factor, much like anything that can have negative consequences to excess, according to Newsweek.

By inclusion in the diagnostic manual, gaming disorder becomes a diagnosis that can be used by doctors and health insurance companies. The final WHO listing is still in draft form, according to news reports.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald ___

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