When a person is unable to stop playing video games, there can be serious consequences. While the American Psychiatric Association has stopped short of classifying gaming addiction as a disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) has now done so. 

What is Gaming Addiction?

If you or any of your loved ones continue to play video games even after suffering consequences from these actions, addiction might be an issue. Thanks to the World Health Organization, gaming disorder is now classified as a disease and more thoroughly defined. 

The WHO states that people whose family or social lives, educations, or jobs have been disrupted by video games probably meet the criteria for this new form of addiction termed "gaming disorder." According to the guidelines, this is particularly the case if a person escalates the behavior in the face of clear negative consequences. 

The WHO, when updating the latest edition of its International Classification of Diseases (known as ICD codes), also clarifies that the disorder related to gaming should be "continuous or episodic and recurrent." It should normally be observed over a period of at least one year, but there are exceptions in extreme cases where a person has tried to cut back on the activity and failed. 

What is the Significance of the WHO's Decision?

The WHO is an agency of the United Nations, representing 191 member nations when defining common diseases. The significance of this change is that the classifications, and codes, produced by the WHO are used by insurance companies for coverage and billing. 

In the past, there was no diagnosis of "gaming disorder," so no insurance covered gaming addiction treatment. This now has the potential to change. With a code available, the appropriate care could fall under a substance use disorder umbrella.

Arguments Pro and Con for Classifying Gaming Addiction as a Disease

Some agencies and professionals are thrilled with the new classification by the WHO while others have misgivings. Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, one of the WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse members, believes that this change will provide more opportunities to diagnose and help the people who suffer from gaming addiction. 

In the past, there was no diagnosis available, so physicians did not ask the right questions. Now there are guidelines for this and more addiction treatment possibilities. Poznyak also pointed out, however, that this is a disorder that should be diagnosed by a healthcare professional. Another hope is that there will now be incentive to conduct additional research on this disorder going forward.

Not everyone agrees that gaming disorder should be an official diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Association has proposed this in changes to its "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual" (DSM), but nothing has yet been approved. 

License psychologist Anthony Bean believes that the WHO's move was premature. The executive director of the Telos Project, a Fort Worth nonprofit mental health clinic, Bean sees gaming as more of a coping mechanism than an addiction. Instead of being addicted to the behavior, he believes that most people who compulsively play video games are suffering from untreated depression and anxiety. 

Stopping short of saying that there are not any people with gaming disorders, Bean states that it is a better approach to identify and treat the underlying conditions. In some cases, a co-occurring disorder might be something as serious as substance abuse. 

A young woman speaking with a woman while sitting on a couch.

The Link Between Gaming Addiction and Substance Abuse

When you do something repeatedly and compulsively that makes you feel good, you are probably altering your brain chemistry. This is the strong argument for the link between gaming addiction and drug abuse. There is also some scientific evidence to back up these associations. 

A 2011 study released by Yale University researchers associated extreme gaming habits with other problem behaviors. The study reviewed the gaming habits of adolescents and found that 4.9 percent found it difficult to cut back on their gaming. It was this same group that also had higher rates of depression, fights, cigarette smoking, and drug use. 

Another study also released in 2011 and published in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry addresses this issue further. According to researchers, the area of the brain that influences the desire to engage in gaming also regulates the desire for drug and alcohol use. The brain's feel-good chemical, dopamine, is the key player in these scenarios. 

The Signs of Gaming Addiction

In 2013, figures showed that gaming disorder was most common among males between the ages of 12 and 20, but this does not exclude females or older males. A more recent survey of nearly 19,000 internet users found that one in three reported at least one symptom of gaming disorder. 

The common signs of gaming disorder include:

  • Constant thoughts of gaming when not playing
  • Becoming anxious, depressed, or angry when not playing video games
  • Lying about time spent playing video games
  • Feeling more comfortable in the gaming world than in real life
  • Refusing to go to school or work in favor of playing video games
  • Neglecting time with family or friends for gaming
  • Spending money on gaming instead of necessities

Is There Gaming Addiction Help Available? 

Gaming addiction is so similar to drug addiction in many respects that the two often occur simultaneously. Even when they are separate, a person with a gaming disorder may require specialized addiction treatment to learn about the nature of addiction and adopt some healthy behaviors. 

How do you treat gaming disorder? According to expert opinion and past experience, there are several successful ways to treat this condition. Among them are counseling, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a treatment method that focuses on identifying problems as well as strategies and paths to resistance. 

If other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD, are involved, those should be treated simultaneously. These are referred to as co-occurring disorders. 

The Recovery Village offers addiction treatment for substance abuse as well as gaming addiction. We also offer co-occurring disorders treatment. If you are unsure about what services will best suit your needs, contact us today to discuss our admissions options. 

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It’s Official: WHO Classifies Gaming Addiction as a Disease
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