The World Health Organization Has Officially Designated Video Game Addiction As A Disease

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Aliyah Kovner 19 Jun 2018, 00:22

By now, it should be no surprise to hear that spending too much time looking at screens is detrimental to one’s wellbeing. From messing with circadian rhythms to disrupting sexual function to inducing depression and anxiety, scientific research has proven that our increasingly digital lifestyle can have serious consequences if one does not remember to unplug from time to time.

Yet doing so can be quite difficult, given that the applications and services we use, plus the devices themselves, were designed to addict us. One of the most cunning offenders? Video games.

This week, the World Health Organization – arguably the leading source for designating what things are bad for us – announced that “gaming disorder” will be included in the latest edition of their bible, the International Classification of Diseases.

“A decision on inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD-11 is based on reviews of available evidence and reflects a consensus of experts from different disciplines and geographical regions that were involved in the process of technical consultations undertaken by WHO in the process of ICD-11 development.”

According to the organization, the disorder is characterized by an impaired ability to control one’s gaming habits, to the extent that it begins to negatively impact their daily activities and supersedes their other interests. To be diagnosed, the behavior pattern must be severe enough that it interferes with aspects of personal, family, social, educational, and/or occupational functioning for at least 12 months. (Of course, only a very small fraction of the world's 2.6 billion gamers fit these criteria.)

The recognition comes five years after the American Psychiatric Association added “Internet Gaming Disorder” to their latest list of disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders edition 5 (or DSM-5), as a ‘Condition for Further Study’ – meaning that leaders in the field are aware of the issue and want to see more research.

Having the condition officially described by the WHO will help facilitate such academic investigations, and could have the added benefit of leveraging insurance companies to cover therapeutic interventions.  

“It’s going to untie our hands in terms of treatment, in that we’ll be able to treat patients and get reimbursed,” Dr Petros Levounis, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told the New York Times. “We won’t have to go dancing around the issue, calling it depression or anxiety or some other consequence of the issue but not the issue itself.”

Due to the relative newness of gaming addiction, there are no proven, effective protocols for treatment, yet there is already a cottage industry of rehab centers in America, China, and South Korea that offer residential programs – with price tags up to $30,000 per patient. 

Dr Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, told IFLScience that despite the lack of consensus among practitioners (and flashy offerings of some recovery centers), the current evidence suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy – a straight-forward modality that is widely considered the gold standard for other compulsion-based disorders – holds promise.  

Unfortunately, even with the ICD-11 status, Dr Griffiths is skeptical that insurance companies will be so easily convinced.

For those in need of help now, joining an online support community such as Game Quitters is a great place to start.

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