Many people, often parents, wonder if someone they know has an actual addiction to video games. Some teenagers and even adults spend hours on end, even late into the night, playing games. At times, they might even skip meals and other day-to-day activities.
Currently, there is no diagnosable mental health disorder involving video games. Research is not sufficient, at this time, to justify wide ranging national criteria for video game dependency.
On the other hand, taking a look at what is a diagnosable dependency, namely substance dependence, it is interesting to compare and contrast the symptoms. There are seven key criteria for the diagnosis of substance dependence, according to the DSM-IV, the nationally used manual published by the American Psychological Association.
One of the criteria of substance dependence is tolerance. This refers to the necessity for the user to obtain more and more of the substance (more and more time spent on the video games?) to achieve the same effect.
Another related symptom is withdrawal. The user experiences physical side effects when going without the drug for an extended period of time. Some compulsive behaviors like pornography have been shown to result in actual physical withdrawal symptoms, when access is restricted. It may be interesting to observe if this happens with obsessive gamers, when they lose access to games for a period of time.
A third symptom of dependence is that the person spends an inordinate amount of time and energy on obtaining, using, and recovering from the substance. That certainly fits with the behavior of an obsessive gamer. Because of all this time and energy spent, users also miss out on social, family, and occupational activities and events. This fourth symptom is often referred to as missed opportunities.
Fifth, the user may express desire to control how much they use, but cannot seem to do so. An example for a gamer would be that he/she says, “I’m only going to play for an hour.” Then the gamer ends up playing for much longer.
Sixth, the user may express desire to stop altogether, or even make attempts to stop. However, despite their best intentions and greatest efforts, they just cannot seem to stay away from it. Lastly, the user continues to use, despite negative social, health, and/or occupational consequences.
All of these symptoms may or may not fit obsessive gamers, but in the DSM-IV, when referring to substance dependence, only three of the seven symptoms must be present to diagnose the disorder. As there seems to be a link, more research into obsessive gamers would clearly benefit society.