By Dr. Brent Conrad
Clinical Psychologist for TechAddiction
Several years ago, the American Medical Association (AMA) decided not to classify computer game addiction as a recognized psychological disorder comparable to gambling addiction.
This decision was based partially on the fact that, at that point, there had been limited research on computer game addiction. Understandably, the AMA decided to refrain from classifying computer game addiction as actual mental disorder - at least for the time being.
Despite this decision, arguments about whether or not computer game addiction should receive official diagnostic status have continued.
For example, some psychologists, physicians, and researchers strongly believe that computer game addiction is an impulse control problem (similar to an inability to control gambling habits) and deserves similar recognition as a "real" disorder.
In contrast, there are also mental health professionals (and of course, members of the general public) who believe that it is incorrect to assume that computer games themselves are addictive and that classification would trivialize serious problems like drug and alcohol addictions.
With these two opposing views in mind, what are some of the points often used to argue for and against the classification of computer game addiction as a mental disorder?
Arguments against making computer game addiction
a recognized psychological disorder include:
1. Although some individuals may play computer games to avoid addressing other personal issues, this does not necessarily indicate "addiction", but rather a less than ideal problem solving approach to life challenges, stressors, and temptations.
2. Computer game "addiction" may simply be a symptom of other psychological, emotional, or interpersonal problems like anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, relationship difficulties, and poor impulse control. It is sometimes argued that if the underlying problem was addressed, the symptoms of computer game addiction would diminish or disappear completely.
3. As a whole, computer game addiction is rarely as serious as drug or alcohol addiction and furthermore, computer game addiction does not have a physiological component (i.e., physical dependence). Drug addiction often leads to serious health consequences, loss of employment, relationship loss, and criminal behavior. In contrast, computer game addiction mostly just leads to lost or wasted time.
4. Due to the sometimes sensational coverage of computer game addiction in the media, it may be easy to overestimate the prevalence and seriousness of excessive computer use.
5. Playing computer games to briefly escape stress in the real world may in fact be healthy and adaptive, and not necessarily a problem that requires a diagnosis or treatment.
Arguments for making computer game addiction
a recognized psychological disorder include:
1. Numerous studies have found associations between computer game addiction and issues such as poor academic performance, work-related difficulties, marital dissatisfaction, poor health, and other psychological problems like anxiety and depression.
2. Habits such as exercise, gambling, sex, and computer games may not result in physical dependency like alcohol or drug addiction do, but many argue that psychological dependence can result if people become obsessed with these activities.
3. Excessive computer gaming seems to share a number of behavioral and cognitive symptoms with gambling addiction (which is officially recognized as a psychological problem).
4. When gambling addiction was initially suggested as a psychological disorder, many of the same arguments were made against the diagnosis that are today being made against the concept of computer game addiction.
5. Even if excessive computer gaming can be brought on by other mental health issues (e.g., depression), this does not mean that it ceases to exist. For example, alcohol abuse may be exacerbated by chronic anxiety and stress, yet few would argue that alcohol addiction isn't "real". Simply because excessive gaming can be triggered by other psychological issues does not mean that a separate diagnosis of computer game addiction is unjustified. Computer game addiction may exist independently of other psychological conditions or along side other disorders.
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