Your Internet Gaming Disorder Uncovered

Reviewed by Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Published 12/09/2020

Compared to traditional computer gaming, Internet gaming has only been around over the past few years (since we have all had cheap access to very fast Internet). The constantly evolving nature of Internet gaming means it is still not properly understood in all of its hues.

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Defining Internet Gaming

Internet games are set apart in the excessive excitement and the false feelings of social proximity in how these games are designed. As opposed to playing against the computer, you get to square off against a top scorer who may be sitting anywhere in the world.

Statistics show that nearly 2/3 of all American households have at least one person that participates in Internet gaming. We can quickly see why Internet gaming disorders may be more dangerous and commonplace. Internet gaming delivers players a false sense of social function. There is a very real, clear, and present mechanism to substitute your real-world relationships with other players that act, talk, and treat you whenever you want.

The reason Internet gaming has become of interest to the medical community is its aspect of addiction. Within DSM 5, which goes back to 2013, Internet gaming disorders were already prioritized in the sections for further research. Internet gaming disorder presents itself as one of the newer behavioral addictions that have since been recognized. What fueled researchers’ interest was that being engrossed in Internet games lights up brain pathways in much the same way that substance abuse does within an addict’s brain. This gives rise to feelings of pleasure and reward – directly manifesting itself as an addictive activity when taken to the extreme.

DSM 5 Internet Gaming Disorder

So, when does your love for Internet gaming get diagnosed as an Internet gaming disorder, or even an online gaming disorder? While previously, the DSM 5 could not agree on the best criteria for diagnosis or even gather sufficient evidence to categorize the Internet gaming disorder separately, the time since has helped clarify these matters. Now, when it comes to diagnosing Internet gaming disorder, the doctor or counselor needs to look for significant impairment or distress. This impairment should specifically come from online gaming in and of itself. General Use of the Internet is not to be taken into account when trying to diagnose this disorder. Online gambling, as well as social media and smartphones, have all been treated separately.

Proposed symptoms of the DSM 5 Internet gaming disorder include:

  • A heavy preoccupation with Internet gaming in and of itself
  • Symptoms of withdrawal, much like one experiences after using drugs, when Internet gaming is removed or made nearly impossible to access
  • A high level of tolerance, in the sense of requiring more time to satisfy the urge to engage in Internet gaming
  • Having difficulty reducing engagement and not finding the willpower to quit their particular indulgence
  • Experiencing a loss of interest in long-cherished hobbies and giving up other activities to spend more time Internet gaming
  • Unwillingness to give up Internet gaming, despite all manner of problems arising out of their choices
  • Engaging in a pattern of deceptive behavior to hide the amount of time and resources spent on Internet gaming
  • Resorting to Internet gaming to address their negative moods and emotions, including shame, guilt, and despair
  • Jeopardizing relationships on an interpersonal level, as well as at the professional level, just to continue participating in Internet gaming

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Of these proposed criteria, at least five of these symptoms need to have transpired within a year. Only then will an individual be diagnosed with Internet gaming disorder. It is important to note that most of the clinically valid gaming problems, in general, have to do with Internet gaming. With the number of diagnoses increasing worldwide, the World Health Organization recently classified gaming disorder as a new disorder altogether. Much research is underway to properly define an online gaming disorder and further refine symptoms for a more accurate diagnosis.

What Causes Internet Gaming Disorder?

Neither the cause nor the actual course the development of this disorder takes is properly understood. We know from some recently concluded studies that online gaming disorders can easily continue for multiple years, as happened in Singaporean children. While only about 9 percent of 3000 children were diagnosed with Internet gaming disorder at the onset of the study, nearly 84 percent of these children will continue their suffering after two years.

Research, including this one, cannot figure if traits, social competence, or personality styles had a role to play in participants’ susceptibility. However, unfortunately clear: more intense depression, poorer academic performance, troubled social relationships with parents and guardians, and finally, greatly enhanced aggression was witnessed in the afflicted children. It’s also worth noting that other researchers have reported various percentage sufferers who still retain their diagnosis and related symptoms.

Online Gaming Disorder Research

The main challenge facing the medical community at this time is the classification of the disorder. The issue is that there is not enough consensus over classifying excessive Internet gaming as an addiction or as a mental disorder. Meanwhile, neurological research has demonstrated that online gaming addicts experience similar degeneration and dysfunction within the brain as individuals abusing other substances.

Interestingly, research also shows that, in reality, the prevalence of Internet gaming disorder is quite small. A majority of the people that play games online would not report symptoms of Internet gaming disorder. Of course, that has to do with reality as much as it has to do with how the disorder has been defined. Even still, research estimates that at least 1% of the general population could potentially get diagnosed with an Internet gaming disorder in the coming years. However, for the moment, research appears to be indecisive over whether individuals suffering from Internet gaming disorder show poor mental health, physical, and emotional faculties compared to those who do not meet the criteria in diagnosing the disorder.

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Another surprising finding is that Internet gaming addiction has more to do with sickness or illness as opposed to the passionate engagement that an enthusiastic gamer has. Therefore, the most important question is what causes an individual to have an Internet gaming disorder. At this time, more research is being conducted to understand Internet gaming addiction and how such behavior may even be a symptom of a far bigger underlying issue, such as anxiety or depression. In any case, talking with a health care provider or a licensed counselor should be your first line of defense against an enemy that is not well understood at this time.

Getting The Right Treatment

The fact is the majority of individuals indulging in Internet gaming do not develop an Internet gaming disorder. Therefore, the problem lies in an individual’s approach, rather than the gaming activity itself. This may be the differentiating factor in Internet gaming addiction when compared to substance abuse and subsequent addiction. In this difference, we can evolve a truly unique way of treating individuals suffering from online gaming disorders.

Treatment options are currently limited, as there is limited research into which treatment options are the most effective. However, it is important to note that an Internet gaming disorder is a real and valid condition recognized in the medical community. Treating this disorder comes down to addressing behaviors and attitudes that lead to Internet gaming’s addictive behaviors. Dealing with an Internet gaming disorder requires careful identification of and education on toxic patterns of behavior. One of the best ways to do this is by working with a licensed counselor. A counselor can work with an individual to change negative thought and behavior problems. They can also help individuals develop action-based strategies they can implement to make real changes in their lives. This is what makes it one of the most popular treatment options for Internet gaming disorder. Suppose the Internet gaming disorder stems from an underlying condition such as anxiety or depression. In that case, it may be beneficial to work with a counselor, in combination with medication to help with anxiety or depression.

The right treatment plan for Internet gaming disorder varies by individual. Therefore, your best option to overcome such a disorder is to work with your healthcare provider or licensed counselor to develop the best treatment plan for you. It’s also important to recognize that an individual who acknowledges the behavior problems has a more successful prognosis when it comes to treatment. Individuals who do not think they have a problem can have more difficulty overcoming an Internet gaming disorder.

The good news is that if you feel you, or a loved one, is dealing with an Internet gaming disorder, help is available. If you have the symptoms discussed above and think you may be struggling with an online gaming disorder, this free test can help you find out if you have a video game addiction and can be a starting point for creating a game plan to address the problem.