Can you get addicted to video games? The World Health Organization (WHO) just released the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, and “gaming disorder” is listed as a mental health condition for the very first time.
Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a family and addictions therapist, explains to LIVESTRONG.COM that he isn’t surprised the WHO has finally classified gaming disorder as a diagnosable disorder with a defined set of features — as he has clinically observed the problem in his own practice.
Even worse? He claims the problem has “grown exponentially” over the last decade.
“I’m constantly negotiating conflict in families over an individual’s technology use as well as mitigating the damage caused in a child’s social, academic and developmental functioning that results from their compulsive gaming activities,” Dr. Hokemeyer says.
According to the WHO, gaming disorder is defined as a pattern of digital-gaming or video-gaming” behavior characterized by three things. The first is “impaired control over gaming,” which Dr. Hokemeyer explains as an inability to regulate their gaming activity, even when it has negative consequences.
The second is an “increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.” Dr. Hokemeyer explains this using the example of a child choosing to play games in isolation rather than play outside with friends, take meals, bathe and sleep. Basically, playing video games trumps all other daily activities, even those that are enjoyable.
And, finally, “the continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” Dr. Hokemeyer explains that eventually a gaming addiction can negatively impact the individual’s daily function. This could result in a lack of performance at school or work, poor hygiene, nutrition or sleep and damaged relationships.
OK, so you go on Minecraft binges every so often, blowing off work and skipping a few showers. How worried should you be? To be diagnosed, the behavioral pattern has to be so severe it results in significant impairment in “personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” normally for a period of 12 months, according to the WHO.
So while it’s not too likely that an occasional video-game binge will get you diagnosed with a mental disorder, you still want to be careful. As with other addictions, it can evolve quickly, according to Dr. Hokemeyer — especially when it comes to adolescents. “This is a function of the addictive nature of an adolescent brain that is wired to crave and absorb excitement and overstimulation,” he explains. “I’ve seen children go from introduction to problematic use to obsession within the span of a few weeks.” Pretty scary, right?
WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse — of which Dr. Vladimir Poznyak is a member — proposed the new diagnosis to the organization’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. He explained to CNN that the inclusion of gaming disorder will mean health professionals and systems will be more aware of the condition and ensure that “people who suffer from these conditions can get appropriate help.”
According to Dr. Poznyak, treatment and interventions may involve therapy, understanding of the conditions and increased social and family support.
Just how common is video-game addiction? While it’s almost impossible to say (considering it only just became a diagnosable condition), a 2016 Oxford University study found that just 2 to 3 percent of people who played video games on a regular basis reported symptoms of addiction. It’s likely that with this new classification there will be more accurate studies conducted in the years to come.
If you or someone you know may suffer from gaming disorder, you should contact a mental health professional for guidance and support. It’s officially a real problem!
Read more: The Negative Effects of Video-Game Addiction