When does online gaming become an addiction?

April 20, 2018 by Alan Mozes, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—For most, playing online video games is largely a harmless hobby. But a new review finds that some fall prey to what experts call "internet gaming disorder."

The concept that gaming could become an addiction first gained traction in 2013 when the disorder was included in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM). At the time, the disorder was only listed as a "condition for further study."

Now, a broad review of prior research has done just that.

The new review looks back at more than 40 investigations conducted worldwide between 1991 and 2016. It concludes that—like other types of addiction—internet gaming disorder is a complex condition that arises when fun morphs into a loss of control, turning into an obsession.

"Excessive gaming may lead to avoiding negative moods and neglecting 'normal' relationships, school or work-related duties, and even basic physical needs," review author Frank Paulus said in a statement.
Paulus is the head psychologist in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Saarland University Hospital in Homburg, Germany.

Still, the investigators stressed that internet gaming addiction remains the exception among players rather than the rule. They note that "for most individuals, computer gaming is an enjoyable and stimulating activity."

The reviewers also point out that the way in which the disorder is defined varies widely among studies and across different cultures, making it hard to draw broad conclusions.

For its part, the DSM states that an "essential feature" of the disorder is having a "persistent and recurrent participation in computer gaming for typically 8 to 10 hours or more per day and at least 30 hours per week." Typically, this involves group games with many remote players.

That definition, said Paulus' team, is "a good starting point." But the researchers argued that it doesn't go far enough.

For example, they concluded that the manual doesn't sufficiently account for the vicious circle that likely envelops gaming addicts. In that scenario, an individual's poor social skills and self-esteem may lead to a gaming obsession, which then further undermines those social skills, and so reinforces the addiction.

And the researchers cautioned that the definition also doesn't account for the full range of other mental health concerns—such as depression, anxiety, isolation and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—that likely feed into risk for the disorder.

The team believe internet gaming disorder is a real phenomenon that can endanger an addict's social and academic future and compromise overall mental and physical health.

The review was published recently in the journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology.

Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh is chief medical officer with Brain Power Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He believes that video games and apps can be a positive experience for many.

But Vahabzadeh agreed that "over time, similar to an addictive substance, individuals may find that this 'digital drug' damages their work and personal lives, leads them to craving for more, and causes withdrawal symptoms in its absence."

Another behavior expert said many parents do worry about gaming's downsides.

"In fact, if you ask any parent about their children and video games, they pathologize the practice even more than scientists," said Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University in England.

"These findings basically confirm what we already know," he said.

But Griffiths concurred that most child gamers do not suffer from addiction.

"I certainly think this is a condition. But preoccupation or excessive use is not necessarily problematic," he said. "Excessive doesn't mean bad. The number of people who are addicted to video games in the way that one can be addicted to drugs or alcohol is very, very low.

"It's not about the amount of time a child spends in front of a ," Griffiths explained. "It's about the content and context in which that screen time figures into his or her life.

"If your kid is not suffering educationally, and has got a wide network of friends, is doing his chores and engaging in physical education, then what they're doing with their spare leisure time is not negatively impacting their life and cannot be called an addiction—even if the parent thinks it's excessive," he said.

Explore further: Review examines everything we know about Internet gaming disorder

More information: Mark Griffiths, Ph.D., professor, behavioral addiction, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, England; Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D., chief medical officer, Brain Power Innovation, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology

There's more on video game addiction at American Addiction Centers.

Related Stories

Review examines everything we know about Internet gaming disorder

April 10, 2018
An analysis of all published articles on internet gaming disorder (IGD) notes that the condition has a complex psychosocial background, and many personal, neurobiological, familial, and environmental factors may put certain ...

WHO gaming addiction classification an important step for treatment, says expert

January 4, 2018
The World Health Organization's classification of video game addiction as a mental health disorder is similar to a decision in the late 1950s to recognize alcoholism as a medical condition, said Douglas Gentile, a professor ...

'Gaming Disorder' recognized as a worldwide mental health condition

December 28, 2017
Americans had "Pac-Man Fever" as far back as 1981 but it has taken until now for the World Health Organization to officially recognize that playing video games too often could be a mental health disorder.

Gaming addiction as a mental disorder—it's premature to pathologize players

February 14, 2018
Gaming addiction is expected to be classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO) but – while concerns over the addictive properties of video games are reasonable – there is a lack of rigorous ...

Addictive gaming to be recognised as disease: WHO

January 5, 2018
"Gaming disorder" will be recognised as a disease later this year following expert consensus over the addictive risks associated with playing electronic games, the World Health Organization said Friday.

Video gaming addiction can control your thoughts, recommendation for further study

November 26, 2012
A psychology researcher from Canberra has collected some of the first scientific evidence that video gaming can be addictive in a way similar to gambling and alcohol.

Recommended for you

Study measures effectiveness of online communication tools in combatting depression among socially isolated seniors

November 19, 2018
Imagine your family has moved across the state or across country. You're retired, and your spouse has passed away. Lacking the social connections previous generations once found in church or fraternal organizations, it doesn't ...

Response to daily stressors could affect brain health in older adults

November 19, 2018
Taking typical daily annoyances such as a long wait at the doctor's office or a traffic jam on the freeway in stride may help preserve brain health in older adults, while emotional reactions could contribute to declines in ...

Exploring the genetic contribution to suicide risk

November 19, 2018
Researchers at University of Utah Health identified four gene changes that occur more frequently in people who died by suicide that may point to increased risk in vulnerable individuals.

MDMA makes people cooperative, but not gullible

November 19, 2018
New research from King's College London has found that MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy, causes people to cooperate better—but only with trustworthy people. In the first study to look in detail at how MDMA impacts cooperative ...

'Boomeranging' back to a parents' home negatively affects young adults' mental health

November 19, 2018
The number of young adults living in their own household has dropped dramatically in the last decades in the United States for a number of economic and social reasons. In a study that will soon be published in the peer-reviewed ...

In-person, but not online, social contact may protect against psychiatric disorders

November 19, 2018
In-person social contact seems to offer some protection against depression and PTSD symptoms, but the same is not true of contact on Facebook, suggests a study by Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System and Oregon Health ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.