The World Health Organization is recognizing gaming disorder as a mental health condition in 2018.
For some, gaming is a way to relieve stress, disconnect or to just take a break from life. Sometimes that hour or two away from reality becomes your reality.
“The younger that they start playing, we see a much stronger correlation in the negative affects of video game addiction and video game use as they get older,” said Dr. Bonnie Brown, a clinical psychologist and the clinical director at Summit Pointe, a mental health and substance abuse clinic in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Brown said video game addiction is seen most often in adolescent boys.
“They experience a dopamine release in their brain and when dopamine is released we feel euphoria, we feel excitement, we feel energized, like the experience of winning and being on a high. So that continual feedback loop of playing the game, getting the experience of the high, winning – creates the use disorder,” she said.
The WHO is working to update the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which identifies health trends and statistics globally. It’s a tool used by doctors to diagnose conditions, and by researchers to categorize conditions.
The latest revision, set to be published in mid-2018, identifies gaming disorder as a pattern of behavior in which a person gives increasing priority to gaming over other activities, so much so that it takes over other interests.
“Someone would have to suffer negative consequences as a result of their involvement with video games, it would have to be for a sustained period of time, of 12 months or more, and it would have to have a significant impact on their daily lives,” said Whitney DeCamp, associate professor of sociology at Western Michigan University.
In addition to spending too much time playing video games, Brown has identified several signs that should raise a red flag for parents.
She says parents should be concerned if their child is:
- thinking about gaming while doing another activity;
- gaming to avoid something, like schoolwork or chores;
- lying about the amount of time spent gaming;
- sneaking debit cards out of a parent’s wallet to buy extra points to progress in a game;
- angry, irritable or aggressive when he or she is blocked from gaming.
Brown said it’s an issue she sees frequently. She tells us Summit Pointe can receive more than 100 new customer calls a day. Brown said a large majority of those calls come from someone requesting family or youth therapy services because the use of technology has been one factor contributing to family distress.
“They come in identifying relational problems; they come in identifying my kids failing in school, everything has changed in his world, he’s not the same kid. And through taking history, we start to delve in to find, hey, there’s a lot of time being spent doing this and the conflict is over video gaming or use of technology,” Brown said.
Brown tells NewsChannel 3 a video game addiction can be treated much like pathological gambling. The biggest challenge is to get the gamer to admit there is a problem. She admits that can be difficult when you have a teenager who is in denial.
“No one ever went to jail for playing video games, so it’s hard to drive the point home to adolescents of this is not OK, your life is changing in a negative way,” Brown said.
The second step is detox and abstinence from the source. Parents might also need to seek outside help from a professional therapist at BetterHelp.com.
Brown said having a counselor, a neutral party, to negotiate the best course of treatment can ensure that it’s not a battle of parent versus child.