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Is An Addiction To Video Games A Legitimate Disorder?

According to the World Health Organization, it certainly is. The global health institution included gaming disorders in the section on substance use and addictive behaviors in the International Classification of Diseases published in May 2019. Gaming can be identified as a disorder when an addict has an excessive and irrepressible preoccupation with video games which results in personal, social, academic or occupational impairment for at least 12 months. This inclusion in the International Classification of Diseases raised several eyebrows.

It complicated a very debated issue in the medical community about what addiction entails and how it can be identified. Gaming would count as a behavioral addiction similar to eating and gambling as opposed to a substance addiction like drug abuse or alcoholism. Though several studies and papers cement certain behaviors as addictive, the validity of behavioral addictions is still highly controversial.

When it comes to gaming, evidence shows that a small percentage of gamers have the same problem with gaming as alcoholics have with alcoholism. Neuroimaging studies show how video games release dopamine in the reward circuit of the brain. There are also published studies that show that compulsive gamers have poorer memory, poorer decision-making skills, impaired emotion regulation, inhibited prefrontal cortex functioning. Compulsive game playing changes the brain’s reward circuits and makes it so that the pastime becomes a fixation to the detriment of the individual’s quality of life and emotional and mental health.

This is in some part aided by the gaming industry itself. Game designers and manufacturers create highly addictive games and employ psychological methods to ensure that players find it difficult to quit. A typical game is structured so that there are easy and predictable rewards in the beginning. Then players are given rewards at random intervals to keep them interested. The dreamscapes and world-building of some multiplayer games on the market are so immersive and absorbing that they are often additional hooks that make real-life pale in comparison.

The way we understand addiction is slowly changing. Today addiction emerges at the intersection of several factors: biology, psychology, social environment, and culture. Being addicted to video games could present alongside other mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, a sleep disorder or an eating disorder. It is important to identify it as soon as possible and seek out a diagnosis so that patients can access rehabilitation and treatment.

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