The World Health Organisation (WHO) was in the news last week, classifying Gaming Disorder as a new health condition in the eleventh edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Also referred to as “video game addiction”, gaming joins alcohol or opioid dependency and gambling under the banner of “disorders due to substance abuse and addictive behaviours”.

Positioning themselves as the global authority on health related issues, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is the largest global health assembly. Thus, it is not surprising that the recent classification of gaming disorder as an addictive behaviour has initiated a wave of conversation across the world.

The ICD-11 classifies gaming disorder as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour.” Particularly, the condition is often characterised by priority being given to gaming over other interests, daily activities and responsibilities despite negative consequences. These may include employment or education commitments, neglect of social relationships or deterioration of personal hygiene. Apart from extremely severe cases, the WHO sets “a minimum of 12 months duration” as a criteria for diagnosis.

It is particularly concerning when absence from or barriers to gaming result in a marked increase in irritability or panicked behaviour. Other potential signs of gaming disorder or addiction include:

  • Lack of control over gaming behaviour. This may be reflected in the onset, frequency, duration, time of day, termination and context;
  • Difficulty maintaining concentration in other areas due to gaming distractions;
  • Increase in distress or anxiety when unable to engage in gaming behaviours;
  • Hiding gaming use or lying about the amount of time spent gaming;
  • Defensiveness surrounding conversations about gaming;
  • Other people (particularly loved ones) believe there is a problem.

Peter Haytonis the Clinical Director and Senior Psychologist at The Banyans Health and Wellness. He comments that although there is currently less empirical evidence to suggest that gaming disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition like depression or anxiety, he agrees that it can be an addictive behaviour that needs to be taken seriously. “The World Health Organisation is shining a spotlight on a pattern of behaviour that we are beginning to see more frequently in the digital world,” Peter says.

In 2013, the American Psychological Association added “internet use disorder” to the research appendix of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). “It’s not specifically video games, but many forms of digital consumption.” Peter specifically gives examples of extensive social media use, constant messaging or excessive “binge watching” of TV shows.

“Any behaviour can be dangerous when there is a lack of control,” he notes. “I believe that the “anywhere anytime” nature of our digital culture may be making these types of behavioural disorders much more pervasive, and we are now realising how damaging uncontrolled digital behaviour can be.”

Gaming disorder seems to follow a very similar process to the development of a dependency to drugs or alcohol, or gambling addiction. For some people, the gaming behaviour is a method to manage unpleasant emotions or “zone out” from reality. Peter explains that procrastination from unpleasant tasks or boredom can also drive gaming behaviours to an unhealthy level.

“It is important that people attempt to seek balance in their life. Any behaviour that is detracting from your balance and affecting your sleep, stress and anxiety levels, and relationships with others may need to be reconsidered,” Peter advises. For some people, this may mean seeking professional therapeutic advice from a doctor, psychologist or counsellor.

Some statistics suggest that the average Australian adult spends approximately 9.4 hours per day looking at a digital device, for both work and recreation. Worryingly, this is a greater amount of time than what most people sleep. For the average person, 143 days per year are spent looking at digital devices.  The same study suggests that numbers can be as high as 11.4 hoursfor those who work in offices, or use gaming devices for recreation. Thus, if you watched three episodes of your favourite show, there is less cause for alarm. But if you have a loved one who isn’t able to move their life forward because there is little else in their life other than the game, it is likely they will need support.

“During the first two weeks of our program at The Banyans Health and Wellness, we encourage guests to take a digital detox, and scale back their digital consumption,” Peter explains. Doing small things like sleeping with digital devices in another room or limiting gaming to weekends may be suitable options.

The Banyans Health and Wellness tailors individual programs for individuals experiencing a variety of dependency or mental health concerns – such as gaming and internet use, drugs or alcohol, depression and anxiety. Our entirely one on one approach means that you are able to focus on the underlying causes of your experiences, and your time spent with our qualified professionals is extremely valuable in your path to recovery. If you or someone you love may benefit from restoring balance in your life, call us on 1300 BANYAN (1300 226 926), email us at wellness@thebanyans.com.au or submit an enquiry below.