Given the popularity of video gaming among adolescents and young adults, it’s no surprise that some people may over-do the activity, spending unhealthy amounts of time playing the games and displaying the signs of addictive behavior. Accordingly, the World Health Organization has added it to its list of “disorders due to addictive behavior” in its 2018 draft of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) is the basis for identification of health trends and statistics globally and the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions. It is used by medical practitioners around the world to diagnose conditions and by researchers to categorize conditions.
As with other addictive behaviors, the WHO defines gaming disorder as 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.
For a gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behavior pattern must be severe enough to cause significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months, the WHO said.
The WHO said its decision to include gaming disorder in its ICD is based on reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from a variety disciplines and geographical regions.
The inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD-11 follows the development of treatment programs for people with health conditions identical to those characteristic of gaming disorder in many parts of the world, and will result in the increased attention of health professionals to the risks of the disorder and to relevant prevention and treatment measures, the WHO said.
WHO points out that studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities. “However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behavior,” the ICD said.
Joseph Lee, medical director of Hazelden Betty Ford’s Youth Continuum, said that while HBF does not treat clients with video gaming as a primary addiction, it is sometimes seen as a secondary addiction in people being treated for substance use disorder.
“I have treated young people with substance abuse disorders who also reported major problems with gaming and other technologies,” Lee told The Influence. “Some of the modalities used to treat other addictions can be used to treat gaming addiction.”
With video gaming “we’re looking for the same kinds of signs as with other types of addiction. Those include preoccupation, anticipating, neglecting other life priorities – relationships, school or other responsibilities.” Lee said. “When we think about those things, we can see technology and video games within the sphere of addiction. It can have a real impact.”
A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that 97 percent of U.S. children play video games for at least an hour a day, almost equally divided between boys and girls. And while some studies have shown possible negative effects such as violence and depression, game playing can also have positive effects, such as improved cognitive development, enhanced problem-solving ability, better mood management, and improved attention span, along with some social benefits, according to the study.