When does gaming become unhealthy?

You may have noticed a rise in popularity of video games such as Fortnight and Clash Royale. Even music superstar Drake has gotten in on the craze. However, when gaming begins to affect an adolescent’s ability to focus or concentrate on other activities, you may be concerned they are playing too much.

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) added gaming disorder to the International Classification of Diseases. WHO defines gaming disorder as “impaired control over gaming that takes precedence over other interests and the continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

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While 63 percent of U.S. households have at least one “frequent gamer,” psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Kosten says much of the concern about gaming addiction has been spurred by East Asian countries such as China and Japan.

“Those are places where there is a particular problem they feel with adolescents getting addicted to video games to the extent to where they are impaired in other functioning,” he said.

Data from clinics across the United States suggests that 5-10 percent of children who are engaged in gaming cannot disengage without serious pathological consequences. Kosten says risk factors for gaming disorder range from depression to schizoid personality disorder.

“It usually becomes a problem pretty early on. Children may be five or six years old when they start simple games and by the time they are teenagers, the games are more complex and time consuming.”

Excessive gaming is an activity that has been described as much less frequent in mature adults. According to WHO, there must be “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning for at least 12 months” before a diagnosis can be made.

“If caregivers are concerned that their child is spending a lot of time alone or on the computer, it’s good to have them evaluated by a mental health professional. It may be a symptom of a more profound disorder such as depression or anxiety,” Kosten said.

Kosten says most clinical treatments, such as therapy or medication, can be provided by psychologists to help adolescents address underlying issues leading to gaming disorder and social isolation.

“The American perspective on gaming is different from others in the world. There are problems that are closer to home like the opioid epidemic, which has very little resources devoted to it compared to the magnitude of the problem.”

Dr. Kosten is the Jay H. Waggoner Endowed Chair in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.

Learn more about the Baylor Psychiatry Clinic or call 713-798-4857.

-By Nicole Blanton

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