Gaming Disorder

You may have heard the World Health Organisation (WHO) has included the mental health condition ‘gaming disorder’ within the forthcoming 2018 edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD is used by Doctors to match signs/symptoms with disease criteria for diagnosis and prognosis.

The draft criteria indicate persistent chronic ‘gaming’ as an addiction taking control of ‘gamers’ as a priority to everything else in their lives. Identifying chronic ‘abnormal’ gaming is likely to be evidenced over at least 12 months.

Signs include:

• Impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration)

• Increased priority too gaming

• Continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences

Although I am pleased the World Health Organisation are recognising gaming as a potential for addiction, in my experience ‘Digital addiction’ is not new. For many years we have been seeing clients coming into rehab presenting signs of addiction associated with gaming. Many Asian countries identified gaming and more latterly online gaming as having potential for addiction. South Korea announced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 06:00. In Japan, players are notified of the time each month spent playing games and in China, internet company Tencent has built in safe modes restricting the hours children play its most popular games.

So why do some cross the line into gaming addiction?

Gaming disorder, compulsive gambling, sex addiction, compulsive retail/ shopping, are often grouped together as process or behavioural addictions.

Process or behavioural addictions are simply defined as an addiction not induced by a substance or chemical. For years’ behavioural psychologists argued the concept of addiction as meaningful and should not be restricted to the ingestion of drugs or alcohol. Research evidenced beyond doubt that alcohol and powerful addictive drugs, such as heroin, have potential to lead to physical and subsequent psychological addiction. So why do behavioural pursuits such as gaming have potential to lead to dependency, with those inflicted presenting similar negative signs and symptoms normally associated with alcoholics and drug addicts? Neuroimaging technologies and research now supports argument that activities, such as gaming may lead to addiction. Our brains register and archives all pleasure in the same way, whether initiated with a drug or gaming reward. Each pleasure has a distinct signature in the brain causing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine release is so dependably correlated with pleasure that today in neurobiology we identify this area of the brain as the ‘pleasure centre’. Dopamine also reinforces learnt behaviour and memory. Quite simply, behaviour and memory are fundamental in the progression from liking something into becoming addicted. Continuous use of substances or behaviours progresses the person to wanting more and more, regardless of consequences. Denial, justification and preoccupation follows.

Determining if you or a loved one have a gaming disorder isn’t straightforward, but as with any compulsion or addiction acknowledgment is key and first step to recovery.

I hope you found this short article formative.