World Health Leaders Officially Classify Gaming Addiction As A Mental Health Disorder

Gaming Disorder is not characterized by the amount of time spent playing video games, but rather when gaming takes precedence over other life interests. sezer66/Shutterstock

The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized video game addiction over the weekend in its adaptation of the eleventh revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11). The diagnosis is set to go into effect in 2022.

ICD-11 is the international standard for reporting diseases and health conditions by identifying health trends and statistics around the world. It notes that gaming disorder is not characterized by the amount of time spent playing video games, but rather when gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities.

“The behavior pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” describes the ICD-11 definition, adding that addiction can be continuous or episodic and recurrent. It may occur either online or offline and manifests by an impairment in control over how often, intensely, or long one plays video games in addition to their inability to quit playing. Most cases are not diagnosed until after symptoms are present for at least a year.

Studies suggest gaming disorder only affects a small proportion of people, but the WHO advises people to be aware of how much time they spend gaming, particularly as an estimated 65 percent of American adults play video games regularly.

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has asked the WHO to reverse its classification, adding that for over four decades more than 2 billion players have enjoyed video games.  

“The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive. And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community,” wrote the ESA in a statement online.

In the same vein, digital addiction extends beyond video game use to include smartphone and social media, all of which can increase loneliness, anxiety, and depression and can form neurological connections in the brain in a similar way to opioid addiction. Children who have a video game system or television in their bedroom often spend less time reading, sleeping, or participating in other activities, and it had a ripple effect on their physical health as well as academic and social lives. Teens who spend more than four hours a day playing video games also have been shown to be more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression.

But everything in moderation, as they say. Video games have been shown to have some benefits, from expanding cognitive abilities and increasing brain size and connectivity to improving eyesight and hand-eye coordination.

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