Why Is the World Health Organization Issuing a Warning About ‘Gaming Disorder’?

The World Health Organization is likely to add gaming disorder to its newest diagnostic manual.

As anyone who has downloaded Candy Crush knows, it‘s hard to stop playing a game once you get going. But for some, video games are downright addictive—and that can impact their daily functioning. A new draft of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2018 International Classification for Diseases recognizes this by including—for the first time—“gaming disorder” in the manual.

The WHO’s diagnostic manual is widely used, and was last updated in 1990. The latest version—called ICD-11—is expected to be published in 2018.

In order to be diagnosed with “gaming disorder,” which will be included in a section on “disorders due to addictive behaviors,” excessive gaming behavior should be evident for at least a year, and the behavior must significantly impair personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other aspects of one’s life. The exact language of the disorder has not yet been finalized.

Vladimir Poznyak, a member of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, explained the inclusion: “Health professionals need to recognize that gaming disorder may have serious health consequences,” he said.

The number of people who meet this definition is likely quite small. A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that only two to three percent of 19,000 people surveyed in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Germany admitted to experiencing five or more health symptoms associated with game addiction, including withdrawal and anxiety.

Pozynak acknowledged this: “Most people who play video games don’t have a disorder, just like most people who drink alcohol don’t have a disorder either. However, in certain circumstances, overuse can lead to adverse effects.”

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