Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos
|Some young males may be addicted to video games.|
What many parents the world over have been proclaiming for quite some time is now official: Some individuals -- mostly young males --- are literally, not just figuratively and annoyingly, addicted to playing video games. That is the determination of the World Health Organization, which after considerable study and debate, recently added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases, a primary source of information for doctors worldwide.
The United Nations agency did not put a time frame (how many hours a day) on what would be considered addictive gaming, but rather, put video gaming in the same category as gambling addiction -- a behavior that becomes “a priority” and which the individual is unable to stop despite numerous negative life consequences. These include loss of a job, loss of friends, broken relationships, poor health, bad grades and other assorted issues that might arise for someone who played, say, Fortnite, the current video game rage, for 14 to 16 hours a day while neglecting work, school, food, sleep, family, friends, showers … real life.
While this classification might seem overdue to some, it is not without controversy. For one thing, the W.H.O. zeroed in on video gaming, both online and offline, but did not include use of the internet and smartphones, which certainly are vehicles for obsessive behavior. For another, the American Psychiatric Association did not include gaming in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, choosing to call it a "condition for further study."
Some critics of the WHO classification suggest that gaming was targeted because of heavy lobbying by some countries, such as China and South Korea, which have large populations of video gamers and are desperately looking for help in treating them. But some mental health professionals say official WHO designation could improve public education, research, insurance coverage and development of treatment programs, which at the moment are scarce and expensive. They say including the gaming industry -- with its legion of experts on creating reward-and-reinforcement scenarios -- in the conversation can only help.
Not surprisingly, most creators of video games (who have an economic motivation to be considered) and their legion of players responded negatively to the classification, arguing with the methodology of some studies and saying the results have been far from conclusive. They also say studies on gaming are relatively new and note that some studies have shown benefits to playing video games, including improved thought processes (lots of strategy to figure out), greater motivation (lots of levels to reach and competition to be won), and improved memory and hand-eye coordination (essential for good gaming). In these regards, they say, gaming is akin to young people playing sports or joining clubs.
Finally, there is also disagreement among mental health professionals about whether the gaming is the cause or the effect of such common co-occurring disorders among obsessive gamers as anxiety and depression.
Still, whether it is an official mental health disorder or one deserving further study, no one argues that playing video games to the point that the player suffers negative consequences in other areas of life is good for one’s health. So, while the APA has not classified gaming as a disorder, it has come up with nine criteria for identifying it, should it make that official decision. They are similar to those used to identify other officially classified addictions:
- Pre-occupation. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about games even when you are not playing, or planning when you can play next?
- Withdrawal. Do you feel restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious or sad when attempting to cut down or stop gaming, or when you are unable to play?
- Tolerance. Do you feel the need to play for increasing amounts of time, play more exciting games, or use more powerful equipment to get the same amount of excitement you used to get?
- Reduce/stop. Do you feel that you should play less, but are unable to cut back on the amount of time you spend playing games?
- Give up other activities. Do you lose interest in or reduce participation in other recreational activities due to gaming?
- Continue despite problems. Do you continue to play games even though you are aware of negative consequences, such as not getting enough sleep, being late to school/work, spending too much money, having arguments with others, or neglecting important duties?
- Deceive/cover up. Do you lie to family, friends or others about how much you game, or try to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you game?
- Escape adverse moods. Do you game to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness or depression?
- Risk/lose relationships/opportunities. Do you risk or lose significant relationships, or job, educational or career opportunities because of gaming?
Obviously, the more “yes” answers there are, the more likely the individual has a problem with video gaming, whether it’s labeled an official addiction or not. Denying it out of shame or guilt or fear won’t help. In fact, the WHO classification is intended to eliminate those obstacles and provide an avenue to help. If the video gamer has trouble stopping or cutting back, consider consulting a professional addiction counselor.
There is also help available online from those who understand the problem because they’ve been there:
-- On-line Gamers Anonymous, a 12-step, support and recovery organization “for gamers and their loved ones who are suffering from the adverse effects of excessive computer gaming”: olganon.org
-- Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAA), “a recovery fellowship, based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous”: cgaa.info.
Whatever you do, be honest. If you or a loved one are talking about it, if it is a cause for concern, if it has caused problems, then it’s a problem, official addiction or not. Don’t wait for the debate to be resolved.
It’s all in the game
- About 2.6 billion people play video games worldwide.
- Two-thirds of American households include video game players.
- The great majority of those who play video games do not display addictive behavior.
- Young males log more hours weekly on video games than do young females.
- The Entertainment Software Association says annual worldwide revenue for the industry should reach $180 billion by 2021.
- Fortnite: Battle Royale, the current hot video game in which 100 players battle to be the last one standing on the island, recently earned a reported $300 million in one month. It has a reported 40 million-plus players, some of whom are obsessive. The game is free to play, but players can buy add-ons (weapons, tools, resources, etc.) to enhance their chances of victory.