What is gaming addiction or gaming disorder?
Gaming addiction or gaming disorder is a behavioural addiction to computer, video or online games. Some professionals may also categorise it under Internet or technology addiction.
Gaming addiction is similar to a gambling addiction in that the person plays to win. Winning can mean completing a mission or goal in the game, defeating another player or beating a high score.
Many online and video games today are multiplayer, and people can also get addicted to the social aspect of playing.
The widespread availability of mobile devices and Internet access is considered to have contributed to gaming disorder becoming a global phenomenon.
What is a behavioural addiction?
A behavioural addiction, also known as a process addiction, is an addiction to a certain action or behaviour instead of a substance like drugs or alcohol. There are many types of behavioural addictions, including eating disorders, porn addiction, and hoarding. Just like a substance addiction, a person with a behavioural addiction will become preoccupied with the activity and may exhibit withdrawal symptoms when not doing the said activity.
What are the symptoms of gaming addiction?
There are several symptoms to watch out for in yourself or a loved one when a gaming addiction is suspected.
- The first is preoccupation with gaming. Any addiction can make a person so involved in it they start to prioritise it over everything else in their lives. A person may start to skip school or work to play, and may neglect their family and forgo socialising with friends.
A 15-year-old boy in North London with an great academic record, a position on the rugby team and social life for gaming. He missed school for a year and spent so much time indoors that he was later hospitalised for Vitamin D deficiency.
- People with gaming addiction will also often skimp on sleep in order to play more. Food, exercise, and basic self-care can also fall on the list of priorities because it takes away time from gaming.
A nine-year-old girl was forced into rehab after spending ten hours a day playing Fortnite. She exhausted herself so severely, she often fell asleep in class. She even wet herself because she did not want to take a short break from the game to the bathroom.
- Another symptom is the inability to control one’s time (or money) spent on video games. People who are addicted lose their sense of self-discipline.
- People with a gaming addiction do not always recognise they have a problem or are in denial. When confronted, they may become aggressive or violent. They may also make any effort to play even if there are negative consequences to their actions.
Cross-addiction and dual diagnosis in gaming disorder
Gaming addiction, like any other addiction can be influenced by another underlying problem, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD. Known as dual diagnosis, this can be an important factor when treating a person for gaming addiction.
If the underlying issue is not treated along with the gaming disorder, the person may relapse with the gaming addiction again or develop another addiction later. For this reason, proper diagnosis, a medical assessment and appropriate treatment is necessary by professionals.
Long-term or severe behavioural addictions can also lead to secondary addictions, also known as cross-addiction. Gaming addiction can influence a person to turn to alcohol or drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine in order to stay alert and awake, or to deal with stress and insomnia due to extreme gaming.
Is gaming addiction a recognised disease?
As of January 2018, gaming disorder has been declared as a real mental disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Gaming disorder will also be placed in the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases), as of 2018.
WHO defines gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behaviour characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.
To receive the diagnosis of gaming disorder, a person must experience some deterioration in functioning and day-to-day life, such as school, family, work, health or social life. The person must also exhibit these symptoms for a duration of 12 months or more.
People at a risk for gaming disorder are urged to be monitored for any changes in physical or psychological well-being. Extensive duration of time spend on video and/or online games should also be kept in mind.
NHS now offers treatment for gaming addiction
In June 2018, the NHS announced that it will provide the diagnosis of gaming addiction and offer treatment for people suffering from it.
This move came after a three-year-long campaign by a mother, Kendal Parmar, whose son suffered from a severe gaming addiction, and believed to have been influenced by WHO’s recognition of gaming disorder.
Because gaming disorder will be classified in the ICD-11, those under NHS are entitled to free treatment for gaming addiction.
What type of treatment is available or recommended for gaming disorder?
What is the difference between outpatient and inpatient treatment?
Outpatient treatment is done while the person remains living at home, and only attending scheduled therapy sessions at an assigned time. With outpatient treatment, a person can continue with their day-to-day activities, including school or work.
Inpatient treatment allows the individual to stay in a residential facility during the course of the treatment. When addressing any addiction, even a behavioural addiction and gaming addiction, inpatient treatment gives the person a better opportunity to recover because they are removed completely from their substance or behaviour, and are not influenced by stresses of day-to-day life, which may have caused the addiction in the first place.
Because Internet access, phones and computers are not allowed in residential rehabs, a person with gaming addiction undergoes a sort of “technology detox”.
Are there resources available for gaming addiction?
There are Alcoholics Anonymous-like fellowships dedicated to gaming addiction, some of which have online meetings as well as in-person meetings. OLGA, Online Gamers Anonymous, and Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous are two fellowships and self-help groups dedicated to gaming disorder.
What happens after treatment?
Proper continuing care is important when recovering from an addiction, as relapse can happen quickly when a person leaves treatment. Aftercare programs reduce the risk of relapse.
Aftercare is something that Castle Craig Hospital, a residential rehab centre in Scotland, takes very seriously.
At Castle Craig, continuing care means providing the patient with helpful resources, such as local therapists or support groups, so that the person has someone to lean on if things get difficult. These support groups are also encouraged, even after recovery, as addiction is a lifelong disease.
Coping strategies and self-help techniques are also taught throughout the treatment process. Finally, all patients are welcome to return to Castle Craig if they need any additional help.
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