For some people, playing games online can become so excessive or compulsive that it interferes with their basic life functioning. Image: Pixabay

For some people, playing games online can become so excessive or compulsive that it interferes with their basic life functioning.

Although it’s a very real problem, the 2013 edition of the Diagnostics Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders classified Internet Gaming Disorder as a category for further study, meaning that it’s a condition that requires additional research before it can be formally classified.

However, gaming addiction, including both video and online gaming, was listed as a mental health condition for the first time by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in January 2018.

What are the tell-tale signs of gaming addiction?

The WHO defines Gaming Disorder as: “A pattern of gaming behaviour characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.

“The behaviour pattern must be severe enough that it significantly impairs personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning, and it must have been evident for at least 12 months,” says Hein Hofmeyr, a clinical psychologist at Akeso Clinic Nelspruit. “It’s a disorder which may be classified as a substance-related and addictive disorder as it exhibits the same signs and symptoms.”

Signs and symptoms include:

·         Withdrawal symptoms, including anger, depression, feelings of restlessness and/or irritability

·         Preoccupation with thoughts of previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session

·         Experiencing intense feelings of guilt because of playing

·         Lying about the amount of time spent playing, as well as an inability to cut back on playing hours

·         Losing friends and isolation from others as more time is spent gaming

·         Reckless spending of money on gaming

·         Being so immersed  in the gaming that the individual loses touch with reality

·         Losing interest in previous enjoyable activities

·         Fatigue and migraines due to intense concentration or eye strain

When to seek help:

If you or someone you know displays compulsive gaming behaviour, it’s important to start managing the number of hours spent playing.
The first step to rehabilitation is acknowledging that there is a problem. Family members or friends could also try to determine which needs the addiction fulfils, and to provide more appropriate alternatives. 
Because gaming disorder is newly diagnosable, there is limited research available on ways of managing and treating gaming addiction. Parents or concerned family members or friends should determine what types of games the addict is playing. Discussions around dependency and certain rules around usage should then also be established.

This includes:

·         Helping them by choosing suitable games which are still fun

·         Talking about the content of the game to understand the difference between make-believe and reality

·         Discouraging them from playing alone

·         Guarding against obsessive playing

·         Discussing the possible risks of gaming addiction

·         Ensuring they have other activities to consume their free time

·         Setting limits to establish the idea that gaming is something to do only during play time

If none of these steps help, professional assistance is advised. This may include individual therapy with a psychologist who has a special interest in addiction. Family therapy is another option, especially if the addict is a child or teenager.

In-patient treatment facilities such as Akeso Clinics enable addicts to work through their addiction within a safe and secure environment, with maximum input from a multi-disciplinary treatment team.