Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Can Someone Be Addicted to Video Games?

"My son is addicted to video games!" That's a statement I hear frequently, whether the son is a small child, or a young adult. I hear this less often for girls. Although there are a lot of girls heavily involved in games, more often I hear about girls with heavy use of texting and social media. But, for males, so often the gaming, whether on a console or through the internet, can take up as much time as the parents allow.

Officially, there is no such thing as video game addiction, at least in the US. China does call it an addiction, and there are treatment programs there and elsewhere. Currently, the DSM-5™lists Internet Gaming Disorder as a condition for further study. It's unfortunate they chose to call it that, because the technology will surely outpace the research, and the behavior around compulsive game play could be the same even if the Internet is not the vehicle of connection. The text in the DSM does allow for the idea of non-Internet computerized games, but it seems like this is going to be very confusing. (Is this a DSM theme, reminiscent of the confusion surrounding non-hyperactive Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?)

The APA, the organization that compiles the DSM and looks at the research, has set up some proposed criteria. As always with disorders, there must be impairment or distress. Then we can look at the issues: preoccupation, withdrawal, tolerance, unsuccessful attempts to cut back, loss of interest in other things. It's looking a lot like what they've written for chemical dependence or gambling addiction, which were the models for this section after all. In the detailed text, the DSM refers to individuals neglecting other activities, missing sleep and food, playing at least 30 hours a week, and becoming angry or agitated if they can't play.

All these official details are fine, but for most parents who are worried, the issue of video game addiction comes down to common sense rather than research consensus. Is your child missing out on social, physical, and professional or educational activities because of game time? Is your child using gaming to manage emotions like anxiety, loneliness or boredom? Does your attempt to manage the time result in meltdowns? Is your child developing the important skills of learning to tolerate boredom or complete a task that doesn't reward with exploding rockets and buzzers?

Stay tuned for my next post, where I discuss video game addiction specifically for individuals with special needs.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/30806435@N04/4298824267">Playing DS</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>

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