Classification of gaming addiction as disorder is ‘on balance’ right – psychiatrist

Gaming addiction can lead to ‘profound social isolation’, says Prof Brendan Kelly

Prof Brendan Kelly said there was ‘no evidence base’ that any medication would work in the case of gaming addiction. Photograph: iStockphoto

Prof Brendan Kelly said there was ‘no evidence base’ that any medication would work in the case of gaming addiction. Photograph: iStockphoto

 

The decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to classify gaming addiction as a mental disorder is on balance the correct decision, a psychiatrist has said.

Prof Brendan Kelly said it was “undeniable” that many young people suffered from gaming addiction.

It was a disorder, he said, that could lead to “profound social isolation” for young people and such a classification would help against the stigmatisation of those affected.

On Monday the WHO added gaming addiction to its international classification of diseases (ICD) which covers 55,000 different illnesses.

It defined addiction to video gaming as a “pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour that takes precedence over other life interests”.

Prof Kelly said, “The question with something like this is, does it benefit people if we declare problematic gaming to be a disorder? Does it help anyone?

“On balance we see enough problems with gaming to suggest that it is right to conceptualise this as a disorder that people need support with.”

Prof Kelly is professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and a consultant psychiatrist at Tallaght hospital. He is also the author of Mental Health in Ireland: The Complete Guide.

Real positive

He said the classification could be a “real positive” and legitimise the concerns about addicts and their families.

However, he warned against the “psychologising” of different aspects of human life “unless there is a clear benefit in doing so”.

Prof Kelly said it was often family members who contacted psychiatry services about somebody who they suspected was addicted to gaming.

The addiction manifests itself in long periods of social isolation and there is a rigid pattern of behaviour which the addict finds hard to break.

He suggested that the numbers of gamers in Ireland who were addicted would be relatively small. “You wouldn’t call it a vast number, but it is severely affecting a small number of people who do need support in changing their habits.”

He also said there was “no evidence base” that any medication would work in the case of gaming addiction.

Child and adolescent psychotherapist Dr Colman Noctor said there were undoubtedly people who were addicted to gaming in Ireland.

“It is incredibly difficult to measure the impact of any gaming behaviour,” he said. “If there is violence or misbehaviour, do we know that is caused by gaming? A lot of pro-gaming people would challenge that.”

He said gaming was similar to gambling in that it looked for the “hacks in our brains” which keep us captivated and vulnerable.

“The premise is about engagement. There are those who would develop a problematic relationship with gaming in the same way that people have problematic relationships with gambling.

“There are a lot of people who are falling foul of becoming captivated and compelled by these devices.”