What is Gaming Disorder? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Gaming disorder involves video game addiction. Get details on what gaming disorder is, including symptoms, causes, and treatment on HealthyPlace.

Gaming disorder refers to a condition involving excessive gaming behavior with negative life consequences. It’s not an official diagnosis—yet. The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to release its latest version of the International Classification of Diseases, the ICD-11 in May, 2019. Gaming disorder is included.

Further, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) included Internet gaming disorder as a condition for study in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The idea of an official diagnosis called gaming disorder and the possible inclusion of Internet gaming disorder in the next revision of the DSM has sparked heated debates. Here’s an overview of what gaming disorder is all about.

Gaming Disorder Statistics

Both the WHO and the APA are concerned about gaming activity. It seems to be addictive and harmful, and it potentially impacts a significant number of people.

Because this concept is newly emerging as a recognized clinical disorder, defining characteristics vary. This means that numbers are slightly different from study to study; still, a consistent pattern has already emerged.

  • One large German study found that 1.5 to 3.5 percent of teens who play Internet games show signs of addiction (Conrad, n.d.; King, et al., 2010)
  • A literature review conducted in 2011 found that six percent of gamers exhibited addiction patterns, but when the definition of addiction was adjusted, the percentage changed to just over three percent (Whittek, et al., 2016)

It’s becoming evident that approximately three percent of players become addicted and will meet the criteria for gaming disorder.

Definition and Consequences of Gaming Disorder

The WHO describes a number of defining characteristics of gaming disorder. It’s a pattern of digital video gaming behavior that is more than merely time spent gaming and involves

  • Little control over the gaming
  • Increasing priority is given to gaming
  • Gaming behavior that overtakes other interests and activities
  • Continued gaming despite negative consequences

Spending a lot of time playing video games, while not ideal, isn’t by itself a sign of addiction. To be a true addiction, the gaming activity must disrupt different aspects of someone’s life:

  • Personal
  • Family
  • Social
  • Educational
  • Occupational
  • Leisure
  • Participation in other activities
  • Sleep
  • Self-care

Gaming addiction can harm physical and mental health, too. It’s associated with poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and vision and hearing difficulties. It’s also associated with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and ADHD.

Gaming Disorder Symptoms

If you are wondering if you or someone you know might be addicted to video games, look for certain gaming addiction symptoms that will help you know if gaming is becoming a problem for you.

The three general symptoms to watch for include:

  • Impaired control over gaming behavior, like having difficulty stopping or starting when you know you shouldn’t
  • More and more, turning your attention to gaming rather than to other things and people
  • Continued or intensified gaming despite negative consequences like the ones listed above                                                                                                                        

A common question researchers, gamers, and loved ones ask upon looking at the symptoms and negative consequences is why. Why does gaming addiction happen?

Causes of Gaming Addiction

Why are video games addicting? Gaming addiction is complex with several causes or contributing factors. Addiction can happen in part because of the nature of the games. Personality traits are at work as well. Mental health elements, too, play a part in whether someone develops a gaming addiction.

The games themselves are designed to hook people. They’re intentionally programmed using specific algorithms coupled with behavior economics to keep people playing.

Regarding personality traits and mental health as causes of gaming addiction, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg debate occurring. Do factors such as poor time management skills and mental health problems, like depression and anxiety, cause someone to be vulnerable to gaming addiction? Or, conversely, do gamers develop mental health problems because of their addiction? Or is it a mix of both? Research studies are underway to discover a reliable cause of addiction.

Treatment for Gaming Addiction

Gaming addiction is treatable. Here, too, researchers are trying to find the most effective treatment approaches for addicting games. These approaches have been shown to go far in helping people overcome this addiction:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Solution-focused therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy (“talk therapy”)
  • Psychoeducation

Of these, CBT is emerging as the most helpful approach in beating a gaming addiction.

While not everyone agrees with the inclusion of gaming disorder in the upcoming ICD-11 or the acknowledgment of Internet gaming disorder in the DSM-5, there are many benefits to adding this official diagnosis.

It could make some gamers more aware and willing to seek help if needed (Where to Find Help If You’re Addicted to Gaming). It could add this to the list of conditions insurance will cover.

Finally, the diagnosis of gaming disorder legitimizes the concern held by many that video games are taking over lives.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 15). What is Gaming Disorder? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Last Updated: December 29, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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