Gaming Disorder: How to Know If You Are Addicted to Video Games and How to Get Help

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized gaming disorder as a new mental health condition.

The United Nations health agency defines gaming disorder as a pattern of behavior where a person loses control over how much they play digital games, to the point where they prioritize gaming above other activities. Those with the condition will keep gaming despite suffering negative consequences.

To be diagnosed with gaming disorder, a person's behavior must significantly impact other important aspects of their life, such as their relationships or their ability to hold down a job. An episode must generally last for at least 12 months, according to the WHO.

On Monday, the agency added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases, which was last updated in 1990. Gaming disorder was considered for inclusion based on scientific evidence and the recommendations of experts around the world.

The World Health Organization has classified gaming disorder for the first time. Getty Images

The WHO stressed that only a small number of people who use digital or video games develop gaming disorder. Most of the roughly 160 million American adults who play games online will not experience the addiction.

"However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behavior," the WHO said in a statement.

Addictive behavior around gaming can be treated with conselling or psychotherapy, including 12 step prgrams. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and learning ways to live with computers responsibly.

"The first step is to seek help from a professional, a primary care physician or a counselor, and have a conversation about the problem," Dr. Petros Levounis, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School told Newsweek. "Also, the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry and the American Society of Addiction Medicine offer excellent resources for referrals to addiction specialists."

While there are no medications to address the disorder, treating co-occuring psychiatric illnesses such as depression and anxiety can help people overcome it, he explained.

However, some have questioned whether gaming disorder needs to be recognized as its own condition, and not dealt with as a symptom of mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association decided not to classify gaming addiction as a distinct disorder, and said it required further research alongside conditions such as caffeine use disorder. Currently, gambling disorder is the only officially recognized behavioral addiction in the U.S., unlike in China and South Korea, which have rolled out treatment programs for gaming disorder.

Anthony Bean, a licensed psychologist and executive director at the non-profit health clinic The Telos Project, told CNN that labeling gaming disorder as a diagnosable condition was "premature." He argued that anything from TV to football could be considered behaviorally addictive if criteria is not rigorous enough.

However, Vladimir Poznyak of the WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse told New Scientist last year, when the agency first revealed its decision to include gaming disorder in its diagnostic manual, that the move was supported by sufficient evidence. There wasn't, for instance, enough data to prove the existence of potential tech-based conditions such as smartphone addiction or internet addiction, he said.

Dr. Levounis said he suspects the American Psychiatric Assocation will elevate gaming disorder to full-recognition status in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. He noted that the diagnostic criteria for gaming disorder, including preoccupation and unsuccessful attempts to control behavior, are "strikingly" similar to the symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction.

He concluded: "We have not crossed all our 'ts' and dotted all our 'is' with regard to the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of gaming addictions. However, their prevalence has been increasing to such an alarming degree that we welcome the official WHO recognition as it can help propel further research and provision of services."