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The debate over "gaming addiction" continues

August 6, 2012
by Shannon Brys
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Is "gaming addiction" an official disorder?

As part of a CNN series called “Gaming Reality”, a story by John Sutter of CNN ponders the question of whether gaming addiction is a real disorder.  Sutter describes a few young men in South Korea that he had met who had undergone some form of treatment for their obsession with video games. 

The article shows an interview with Dr. Charles O’Brien, who is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and is the chair of the group working to decide whether disorders such as this one will make the official list in the United States.  Besides internet and gaming addiction, a couple of the other conditions up for consideration are jogging addiction, sex addiction and food addiction. 

He says it has not been determined at this point that gaming addiction is a real disease but they are looking for more evidence.  He says it might be hard to tell because some of these people who are “addicted” to the gaming sites may be suffering from other disorders, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc., and the games may be their way of escaping to deal with their problems.  He says that they will need more concrete evidence and a significant number of similar cases in order to make a decision.

So far, the treatment for people who have extreme obsessions with internet or gaming addiction has been either talk therapy or “virtual-reality” treatment.  The latter is described as the patient being exposed to his video game at first to make him feel as if he is in a calm environment with the sights and sounds he is used to, followed by an uncomfortable image that will create a negative association between the player and the game he couldn’t stop playing.

According to O’Brien, this topic has been researched since the 2000s and he believes that one day it will be added to the DSM as an official disorder.



I am an licensed addiction and mental health therapist,who also has personal knowledge of the disease of addiction. What I have come to realize over the years of my career [and personal life] is that the [disease of addiction] is the crux of the problem; what people feed it is different from individual to individual, i.e., obsessive exercise, food, sexual acting out and obsessiveness, alcohol, other drugs, internet gaming, spending/shopping, work, gambling. The disease of addiction is the same, but people feed it different things or switch to something different when they give up the last substance or behavior. Addiction is about looking to something external to fill a void within the individual. People with addiction all talk about the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, longing, and/or void. I wish we could stop focusing on the individual things people feed addiction and look more at teaching people that the disease is real and what to be wary of when they engage in behaviors or ingest things to self soothe. My opinion is that all the time focused on whether gambling or gaming on the internet, etc are "real addictions" is distracting. Treating any addiction is similar. I suggest we focus on the disease, which has signs and symptoms that can be identified long before someone drinks, uses drugs, spends all his/her money. The substance or behavior may be different, however, the disease is the same and it looks, restless (easily bored), irritabe (when it doesn't get it's own way, discontented (wanting, longing), searching for something to soothe the inner being. I think we have more to learn about the disease and how to treat it; and my opinion is that we are getting side tracked by trying to figure out whether the individual things we are feeding addiction are addictions in and of themselves. Addiction is addiction; the signs and symptoms are very similiar if not the same and people feed it different things. Yes, people may have other mental health disorders and yes, those need to be treated along with treating the addiction. One condition will exacerbate the other and I don't think we need to figure out which came first. I do think providers need to have knowledge, credentials and the ability to treat the co-occuring disorders, i.e., mental health and addiction or the wisdom to refer to some who does have the means.