Game Over: WHO Shines Light on Gaming Addiction

Do you have a video game problem? Here, we look at how gaming disorder is diagnosed as per the new guidelines published by the World Health Organization. More on how to identify gaming addiction in this guest blog article from clinical therapist, Obi Unaka.

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Gaming Addiction is a Real Thing

Have you ever found yourself unable to cut down on your gaming? Have you failed to do what was expected of you, perhaps even missing a doctor’s appointment or a work assignment, as a result of your gaming habit?

If so, you (or one of your loved ones) may be diagnosed with having a “gaming disorder” under new guidelines established by the World Health Organization (WHO).

What is Gaming Addiction?

So, are video games really a problem? Yes, says the WHO.

Gaming addiction is to be listed as “gaming disorder” in the 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The new edition will be published in 2018. This is the first time that the ICD has included an entry for gaming addiction.

In the ICD, gaming disorder is described as a severe pattern of gaming behavior in which the participant’s gaming “takes precedence over other life interests”.

Are You or a Loved One Affected by Gaming Disorder?

In most cases, doctors will need to see evidence of abnormal gaming behavior for at least 12 months to make a diagnosis.

The main symptoms of gaming disorder are as follows:

  1. Impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, and duration).
  2. Increased priority being given to gaming.
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming, despite negative consequences.

It’s important to distinguish between a healthy enthusiasm for gaming and a gaming disorder. Gaming can be a harmless, even sociable, way to relax. But it’s when gaming leads to negative consequences — and the patient is unable or unwilling to make changes — that the hobby may become a disorder.

What are the Negative Consequences of Gaming Too Much?

Taken to extremes, gaming can have negative consequences.

First, there are negative consequences to health. Gaming for long periods of time can prevent people from getting enough exercise, contributing to health problems such as obesity. Sitting for long periods of time is also associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, not to mention damage to the hands and eyes as a result of excessive keyboard and screen use.

But the social and emotional damages of gaming disorder can also be severe. Excessive use of video games is linked to depression and anxiety, and gaming is being cited as a reason for divorce in 15% of cases.

Gaming as a Hobby vs. Addiction

Another point to consider is the length of time that many gamers have spent on their hobby. It’s not uncommon for a young adult to have started gaming at five or six years old. If gaming has been their favorite hobby for over a decade, it’s not surprising that there might be an extreme reluctance to cut back on this intensively habit-forming behavior.

Next Steps

When that point is reached, it’s likely that treatment is needed to overcome gaming addiction. As with most kinds of addiction, treatment will include therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach which has successfully helped others overcome addictive behaviors. In CBT, a patient and a counselor or therapist will examine thought processes and challenge those that lead to addictive behaviors. Over time, destructive thought processes are replaced with healthy ones.

Alongside CBT, gaming disorder can be treated by therapy sessions. One-to-one therapy sessions are important, but we also encourage patients to explore couples therapy or family therapy. This is particularly useful when the negative consequences of gaming disorder are putting a strain on the patient’s relationships.

Treatment can also be supplemented with alternative therapies, such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, or other fitness programs. These therapies can act as a healthy substitute for gaming, while also improving mental and physical wellbeing.

About the Author: Obi Unaka is a therapist, clinical supervisor, consultant, and registered manager at Charterhouse Clinic. Charterhouse Clinic Premier Outpatients provides outpatient care for recovering addicts in central London, UK.
About the author
Obi Unaka is the Treatment Director of Charterhouse Clinic Flore, a fully residential, luxurious drug and alcohol rehabilitation, health and wellbeing facility set in the idyllic countryside of Northamptonshire, UK. Obi is a therapist, clinical supervisor, consultant and registered manager with many years experience of working with individuals presenting with problematic substance use and process or behavioral addictions.
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