Video games have come a long way since the early days of Atari and Nintendo. Now, games like Fortnite or Minecraft can seemingly take over the lives of kids, teens and adults. These games are complex and based around survival with help from online multiplayer teams, characteristics that make playing exciting and rewarding. It’s no wonder that in the U.S., online gamers spend an average of 6.5 hours per week playing with others– that’s almost 340 hours per year. All this gaming isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently added “gaming disorder” to its list of mental health conditions in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). What does gaming disorder look like? Gaming disorder can look different from person to person, but the general characteristics are often very similar to those of a gambling addiction or substance use disorder and include:
- Impaired control over gaming
- Increasing priority given to gaming, to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities
- Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences
To be diagnosed with a gaming disorder, a person must display the above characteristics for at least one year. A few warning signs to be aware of include:
- Playing for increasing amounts of time
- Gaming to escape real-life problems, anxiety or depression
- Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
- Experiencing disturbed sleep patterns, diet problems or irritability
Some medical professionals believe that a gaming disorder can stem from other mental health conditions including depression or anxiety. To be properly diagnosed, an individual should visit a certified mental health professional. Can it be treated? According to Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, most interventions or treatments for gaming disorders are based on the principles and methods of cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a process that works to address psychological problems by changing thinking patterns and behaviors with help from a psychologist. If you’re concerned about your or your child’s gaming habits, make an appointment with a certified mental health professional by using the Find a Doctor tool or through Blue Cross Online VisitsSM. You can also try these tactics:
- Limit time spent playing by setting a timer and being strict about stopping when time is up.
- Prioritize tasks accordingly and allow time for gaming when those tasks are completed.
- Gauge how long you can go without playing a video game and fill your time with other hobbies.
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