If You’re Obsessed With Video Games, WHO Claims You May Have a Mental Disorder


Gaming | iStock

Do you stay awake for hours past the rest of your family, trying to keep quiet as you work tirelessly to level up your character just one more time? Is showing up late to work — or not showing up at all — a normal part of your schedule?

Do you count the minutes until you can get your hands on your well-used controller again — even though you know you shouldn’t?

You might think you just love gaming. But it turns out you could actually be addicted to it.

Upon releasing the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization officially established a new mental health condition: gaming disorder.

Health professionals and researchers use these classifications to diagnose and collect data on a wide range of symptoms, injuries, diseases, and deaths.

Now that compulsive gaming is an official diagnostic outcome, people who disappear from reality for hours at a time could actually receive a referral from their doctor to meet with a psychologist and work through the problem. Or, parents and significant others of gaming “addicts” could have been granted a stronger argument for less daily screen time.

Either way, it’s now official: Taking gaming too far can hurt. But there is hope for those who find themselves trapped in an endless loop of multiplayer battles they legitimately can’t refuse.

Someone must meet the following criteria to receive a gaming disorder diagnosis:

  • Gaming behavior becomes a priority over other responsibilities
  • The behavior continues despite the negative consequences of neglecting those responsibilities
  • This results in impaired social, occupational, and personal functioning.

A person also must showcase these behaviors for a minimum of 12 months.

Gaming disorder isn’t all that different, symptom-wise, from substance abuse disorders. Addiction drives certain people to avoid real-world circumstances, such as school or their jobs, in order to satisfy their craving for something else — in this case, video games.

The WHO hopes its official classification will allow more people who need help the opportunity to receive proper treatment. Since gaming disorder involves a negative behavioral pattern, cognitive behavioral therapy already serves as the go-to strategy to help individuals work through symptoms of the disorder.

Man playing a video game while a woman sits next to him looking upset

Man playing a video game while a woman sits next to him looking upset | Andrey Popov/iStock/Getty Images

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people living with a variety of mental disorders to adjust their thought patterns and learn healthier strategies to help them cope with their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Research suggests it’s an effective form of therapy for issues ranging from depression to substance abuse to eating disorders.

Not all experts agree the disorder belongs in the ICD, though. Anthony Bean, a licensed psychologist, believes gaming might actually be a coping mechanism for much bigger problems such as severe depression.

This wouldn’t be all that surprising; anxiety disorders alone affect an estimated 40 million adults, and major depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

“I’m a clinician and a researcher, so I see people who play video games and believe themselves to be on the lines of addicted,” Bean said. “When anxiety and depression [are] dealt with, the gaming goes down significantly.”

Iowa State University’s Douglas Gentile produced vastly different results after conducting gaming addiction research on kids. He followed young gamers for several years to assess their gaming behaviors related to feelings of depression and anxiety.

“We found that when kids became addicted, their depression increased, their anxiety increased, their social phobia increased and their grades decreased,” he said. But all these things reversed once they stopped gaming obsessively.

Gentile also urged people to take the new classification seriously, since WHO is an organization based on science and evidence — not opinion.

Many psychology experts hope the inclusion of gaming disorder in the ICD will fuel further research into the effects of compulsive gaming and the best ways to diagnose and treat it.

Is gaming disorder the biggest problem facing the United States right now? Probably not. But for those dealing with addictive behaviors, getting help could change everything for the better. It’s possible to rely so much on a game for sustenance that the world around you slowly falls apart. But it’s also possible to relearn to the art of gaming for pleasure, rather than treating it as a necessity.

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