HEALTH SENTINEL: Video or online gaming addiction being recognized as a mental-health disorder

Excessive playing of video and online games has been recognized as an addiction and mental-health disorder. (From The Associated Press)
David Lombard, a psychologist at the Center for Applied Behavioral Studies in Fort Wayne, has treated clients with video and online gaming problems. (Courtesy photo)

It’s winter vacation time and too cold to do anything outdoors, so the kids are engrossed in playing the video games they received for Christmas.

You’re just glad your teenagers are safe at home, never mind that you can’t coax them away from their games to do chores or interact with the rest of the family.

Perhaps over the past year or so, you’ve noticed online games have pretty much consumed your child’s life, particularly if he’s a teenage boy. Maybe your husband is the one who walks in the house, retreats to his man cave-video playland and is still at it long after everyone else is in bed.

It might be time to do a health check for video gaming addiction.

For the first time, video or online gaming addiction will be classified as a mental health disorder. It is slated to be included in the World Health Organization’s 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, or ICD, which publishes later this year.

The ICD is the go-to compilation of diseases that U.S. physicians, hospitals and mental health providers use to define and track diseases and health conditions and are recorded in individuals’ health records and used for submitting claims for insurance reimbursement.

In ICD-11, gaming disorder, offline or online, is defined as “impaired control over gaming; increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and continuation or escalation of gaming.” It’s listed in the substance abuse and addictive behaviors section.

Some mental-health practitioners and scholars say creating a new diagnosis for people who do excessive gaming and including it in a category with such addictions as drug and alcohol is overkill, citing lack of scientific evidence on problematic behaviors related to gaming.

In fact, the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the diagnostic bible for mental-health practitioners, stopped short of calling internet gaming a disorder, but listed it as a condition needing more research.

Fort Wayne psychologist David Lombard at the Center for Applied Behavioral Studies, 3062 Mallard Cove Lane, has treated numerous individuals who have what he terms more of an obsession with gaming than an addiction.

“When we use the word addiction, we think heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol,” he said, noting with excessive gaming “there is a real emotional obsession.”

As to whether that obsession is changing the chemistry of the brain, the jury is still out. Part of the challenge, Lombard said, is games are changing so quickly that research on certain ones two years ago is not relevant today.

The bottom line is people should look at behaviors. Has gaming led to behaviors that are harmful or maladaptive, such as not keeping up with school work or skipping school, not paying bills, maintaining hygiene or failure to even eat?

“We’ve had deaths related to people who video-gamed,” Lombard said, noting gamers didn’t eat for days because they didn’t want to lose in a game so they continued to play nonstop. “I’ve personally had people come into my office because they lost relationships due to gaming.”

With virtual gaming, which is exploding on the market, players can escape from the real world.

“People can have virtual relationships, virtual marriage, a virtual house and virtual kids. That has the potential to be very harmful,” Lombard said.

At first it can seem like a harmless escape from the real world, and Lombard said, “Reality is – the real world is hard. But with virtual reality gaming, I think we will see behaviors getting worse.”

With games involving fast-paced competition, players feel compelled to keep playing and to win. Lombard cautions parents to listen to their kids’ verbal discussions with other players, many who may be half-way around the world. Players can gang up on another to destroy him or her.

Swatting among players is a growing trend in which one player is so desperate to get another to stop that he convinces the victim player that someone, sometimes the offensive player, has entered his house, shot his parents or committed another violent crime. The offensive player calls police or tells the victim player to call. A SWAT team shows up.

On Dec. 28, a 25-year-old California man, allegedly involved in an online quarrel with two Call of Duty gamers, was arrested after he prompted a hoax call to Wichita, Kan., police that led to a man being killed by police.

“A lot of years, parents viewed video games like television, but the amount of violence is huge, the amount of disappointment or failure is huge,” Lombard warned. “If you let your teenagers on the internet or to do gaming without parental control, it’s like letting them walk the streets in Las Vegas. Bad stuff will happen.”


Fort Wayne psychologist David Lombard gives these suggestions for parents on keeping their children from excessive online or offline gaming:

• Give kids a 30-minute advance warning that dinner is ready and that they must quit playing by then.

• If the child’s computer has a microphone, listen in on the conversation between gamers. Cyber-bullying among gamers is growing.

• Limit the time your kids can play. Microsoft game equipment such as Xbox can be programmed to shut off at a certain time of day; parents also can control the internet router.

• Don’t let virtual relationships in games replace real friendships and family interaction.

• If your child is increasingly angry when you ask him to stop the game or you start to see other concerning behaviors related to time spent gaming, seek professional help as a family.


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