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Internet Gaming – Addictive Potential?


Online games are very popular, one recent study estimates that some 160 million American adults play Internet-based games. The games can be very entertaining, and it may be easy to get absorbed in the competition, but can they be addictive? The topic has generated much news coverage in recent weeks.

Whether Internet gaming is a real mental disorder is the subject of much debate and much research. A new study reported recently in the American Journal of Psychiatry (online March 2017) examined behaviors around Internet gaming. It found that among those who played games, most did not report any symptoms of Internet gaming disorder and the percentage of people that might qualify for Internet gaming disorder is extremely small.

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Addiction to Internet gaming is not currently identified as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders. However, Internet gaming disorder was identified in DSM-5 as a condition recommended for further study.

The latest research involved several surveys of adults in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Germany. One of the surveys, involving young adults age 18 to 24, more than 86 percent had recently played online games. The percentages of men and women who recently played was roughly equal. Another survey of adults of all ages found more than 65 percent had recently played online games, including slightly more men than women (68 percent of men, 62 percent of women).

Survey participants were asked about problems related to Internet gaming based on the proposed list of symptoms in the DSM for Internet gaming disorder.

These include:

  • Preoccupation with Internet gaming
  • Withdrawal symptoms when Internet gaming is taken away (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
  • Tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming
  • Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit playing
  • Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Continuing to play despite problems
  • Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on Internet gaming
  • The use of Internet gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness
  • Risk, having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to Internet gaming

A diagnoses of Internet gaming disorder would require experiencing five or more of these symptoms.

The researchers found that 0.3 to 1.0 percent of the general population might qualify for a potential acute diagnosis of Internet gaming disorder, based on the DSM-5 criteria. Among those who played games, more than 65 percent did not report any symptoms.

The study also compared Internet gaming to gambling, the only non-substance related addiction included in the DSM. They found that the rate of gambling addiction was higher than that of Internet gaming disorder. “This provides tentative evidence that despite being a new and popular activity, Internet based games might be less dysregulating than gambling,” the authors conclude.

Study also found no significant differences in overall mental health, physical health or social activity between those who met the criteria for Internet gaming disorder and those who did not.

Writing in a commentary about the study, Patrick M. Markey, Ph.D., and Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., conclude that the study suggests “video game addiction might be a real thing, but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be.” The study provided more information for the debate over whether Internet gaming is an addiction. The research and the debate can be expected to continue.


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