Is Video Game Addiction Really an Addiction?

Man playing video game in living room

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Ask some parents whether video game addiction is real and they will say yes. They watch their child retreat into a virtual world for hours on end, neglecting their friends and family and losing interest in everything but their monitor or screen.

But what do the experts say? Is this just one more vice (or device) that, like with alcohol or drug addiction, can completely take over and negatively impact one's world? Can you really be addicted to video games?

The Latest Word on Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction is not included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the DSM-5. This is the manual used to diagnose mental health disorders, which includes addictions.

What the DSM-5 does include, though, is Internet gaming disorder. The criteria used to diagnose Internet gaming disorder include experiencing at least five of these symptoms within the past year:

  • Gaming preoccupation
  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming cannot occur
  • Increased time spent gaming to "satisfy the urge"
  • Not being able to eliminate or reduce the amount of play
  • Loss of interest in other activities
  • Gaming even when it creates negative consequences
  • Not being honest about the amount of time spent on games
  • Using gaming as a way to feel better

Though video games aren't always online, the World Health Organization also recognizes gaming disorder (without the "Internet" designation) in its most current International Classification of Diseases, the ICD-11.

Why Recognizing Video Game Addiction is Important

Recognition of video game addiction would allow support services to be integrated into addiction recovery program, and specific training to be provided to staff. This is particularly important given the high incidence of coexisting disorders among those with this addiction.

Research has found that 92% of people with Internet gaming disorder also have anxiety. Approximately 89% have coexisting depression, 85% have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and 75% have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Formally recognizing video game addiction may also open up more treatment avenues covered by insurance. While some organizations offer free addiction recovery, connecting with no-cost resources aimed at video games isn't always possible.

Video Game Addiction: A Worldwide Issue

Some Asian countries, such as China and South Korea, have identified video game addiction as an urgent public health matter. Reasons for this classification include the connection between this addiction and other mental health issues.

Yet, spending a lot of time playing video games can present another issue. Studies have connected extreme playing with increases in blood clots, for instance, even in adolescent players.

In the United States, estimates of video game addiction are more difficult with computers accessed at home rather than in shared public places. However, case studies show similar patterns of behavior across cultures, arguing that they are the same phenomenon.

Possible Video Game Addiction Causes

What makes video games so appealing? When free from the constraints of school, many kids simply want to be entertained as easily as possible. And many parents want this for their kids too.

Giving their child the latest video game serves two purposes. One, it alleviates parental guilt about not spending enough time with the child. Two, it keeps the child happily occupied. Both can lead to lengthy periods playing video games.

Research shows that video addiction often begins to show by the time a child is 10. Additionally, risk factors associated with this addiction include living in a single-parent household, being male, and not being well-integrated socially at school.

A 2015 study also found that some choose to play video games as a way to compensate for difficulty associating with others. Put another way, they prefer playing games to interacting face-to-face.

Video Gaming a Young Addiction

The idea of video game addiction has rapidly grown out of an industry geared specifically at children. Halfway between toys and TV, video games are targeted at naïve youngsters unable to set their own limits or make thought-out decisions about how to spend their time.

Some game manufacturers even boast about the "addictive" experience of their games in their advertising. Proper recognition of the risk of video game over-use or addiction provides a rationale for setting guidance standards regarding appropriate limits.

Video Games Aren't All Bad

While playing video games for hours on end could be problematic, these virtual forms of entertainment also have several advantages. For example, achieving video game mastery can increase the self-esteem of the player.

These games can also improve eye-hand coordination. Some even offer educational features. More sophisticated games can help players develop other skills, and recent developments have built-in aspects of physical exercise, providing even more benefits.

The reality of popular culture is that we are more and more dependent on technology. Video games allow people to have positive experiences with computers that can provide transferable skills when using these devices for other purposes.

Dangers of Video Game Addiction Labeling

To label the activity an addiction without sufficient guidelines about what constitutes addiction could deter many children and their parents who could possibly benefit from video games. This would be a mistake.

There is also a wide variation in video games. Yes, some appear to have harmful effects, particularly through the promotion of violence. Though, this is a function of the content of specific games rather than a characteristic of video games per se.

Video games as a medium have equal potential to develop positive social skills, or to provide benign forms of entertainment, although these may not be as easily marketable to kids.

As with other addictions, there is a risk that a label like "video game addiction" could be used too liberally, without paying attention to other concurrent or underlying conditions. These conditions have different treatments that might more effectively help the excessive game player.

And video game addiction is vulnerable to the same criticism as all behavioral addictions. This criticism is that addictions are a chemical problem resulting from the intake of addictive substances, not a pattern of behavior. In this case, that would be incorrect.

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