Video game addiction: not all fun and games

August 09, 2018 | by Kevin Stromberg, LCPC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

It’s all fun and games … until it isn’t.

Ever heard of the video game Fortnite? With an estimated 125 million total players, it’s becoming the hottest game on the internet, surpassing Minecraft. But for some, the draw to play video games like this one begins to take over their lives, and becomes like an addiction.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced "gaming disorder" as a new mental health condition included in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which identifies health trends and statistics globally.

The WHO defines gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behavior characterized 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.”

Gaming has long had an addictive quality, and the video game industry is expanding faster than medical research can keep up. Findings from a 2018 report by the Entertainment Software Association reveal 64 percent of U.S. housesholds own a device that they use to play video games.

As the number of addicted gamers increases, medical professionals are trying to figure out how to treat them. Experts say the main characteristics of the disorder are similar to substance use disorders and gambling disorder. Some see gaming disorder as a symptom of depression or anxiety, rather than as a stand-alone medical condition.

Addictive gaming echoes an ongoing concern about the harmful effects of excessive screen time on mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that the average child spends seven hours a day looking at a screen. Research has linked excessive screen time to poor sleep, school problems, aggression, mood disturbance, and other behavioral issues.

How can you tell if a love of the game has turned into a gaming disorder? Look for gaming behavior that:

  • Is persistent and severe
  • Takes precedence over other activities
  • Causes significant impairment in important areas of functioning (personal, family, social, work, educational, etc.)
  • Is difficult to control, even when negative consequences occur
  • Is evident for at least 12 months

So many kids seem to be hooked on video games these days. Should you be concerned about your child developing gaming disorder? Studies suggest that the actual disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities.

Still, parents should pay attention to how much time their kids are spending on gaming. Is the gaming interfering with sleep and other daily activities? Are they giving up their friends or other hobbies for games? Is it causing any changes in your child’s physical, emotional, or social health? Learn signs that your child is overdoing screen time.

If your kid starts to neglect other parts of their life because of gaming, do something about it. Try these ground rules for screen use.

A child behind the screen has less time for active, creative play, and exercise. Encourage your whole family to turn off the screens and step outside more often. New studies suggest spending time in nature can actually improve your health.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blogs:

What is too much screen time doing to our kids' mental health?
Do you need a social media break?
How to keep your child from becoming a media-addicted zombie


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