If you know a boy aged 10 to 21, then there’s a good chance you’ve witnessed them sink whole days into playing video games. You might even have accused them of being “addicted” to video games. As it turns out, you might have been right. Under new guidelines established by the World Health Organisation, “gaming disorder” will be recognised as a medical condition for the first time.
What is gaming addiction?
Gaming addiction will be listed as “gaming disorder” in the 11th edition of the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). In the ICD, gaming disorder is described as a “severe pattern” of gaming behaviour in which the participant’s gaming “takes precedence over other life interests”.
The entry demonstrates that the WHO understands the potential harm of uncontrolled video game use. It’s a recognition that people can experience video game addiction in the same way that they can experience gambling addiction or addiction to other kinds of harmful behaviours.
There are often real-world consequences to gaming addiction. Patients with gaming disorder often want to cut down on their gaming, but can’t. They often fail to fulfil social obligations and miss activities or events organised by friends. Sometimes there are serious consequences, such as when doctor’s appointments or professional appointments are missed due to gaming.
What are the signs of video game addiction?
Under the WHO guidelines, doctors will need to see evidence of at least 12 months of abnormal gaming behaviour to make a diagnosis. In extreme circumstances, a diagnosis can be made in a shorter period of time if the gaming is more intense.
The symptoms of gaming disorder are as follows:
- Impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity and duration)
- Increased priority being given to gaming
- Continuation or escalation of gaming, despite negative consequences
If you’re worried that a loved one might be affected by gaming disorder, there are signs to watch out for. Are they tired as a result of staying up late and playing video games? Are they withdrawing from their social circle and real-world responsibilities in favour of video games? Do they talk or think about video games even when they are supposed to be doing something else?
It’s important to be rational when looking for warning signs. Many teenagers (and adults) will stay up all night playing video games with their friends and spend the whole of the next day talking about it. It’s not gaming disorder if this happens rarely or happens in a controlled way. Distinguishing between a normal enjoyment of video games and a disorder is crucial.
When do video games become harmful?
The physical warning signs of gaming disorder are the signs associated with excessive computer use. These are as follows:
- Weight gain or loss
- Disturbances in sleep
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Blurred or strained vision
There are also consequences to the gamer’s mental health. Excessive gaming has been linked to depression and anxiety. Excessive gaming can also cause insomnia and people who spend a lot of time in front of screens can find it difficult to interact with people face-to-face.
Think you might have gaming disorder? It can be treated
The framework for treating gaming disorder is similar to the treatment for other addictive behaviours, such as gambling. Treatment will involve therapy of some kind. The therapy can take place at an outpatient centre, but in extreme cases, the patient might prefer intensive treatment in an inpatient centre.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach to treating addictive behaviours which has been recognised by the NHS. Through CBT, a patient and a counsellor will examine the patient’s thought processes and identify triggers for negative or addictive behaviours. Together, negative thought processes will be challenged and replaced with healthy ones.
Alongside one-to-one sessions, the patient will also often be invited to group sessions. If gaming disorder has damaged familial or marital relations, then patients might benefit from exploring family therapy and couples therapy. The patient could also attend group therapy sessions in a supportive environment.
Author Bio: Obi Unaka is the Treatment Director at Charterhouse Clinic. He has 16 years of experience in a clinical setting. Obi has developed successful addiction treatment services in a variety of settings.