American Medical Association to Vote on Online Gaming Addiction

CHICAGO — At next week’s meeting of the American Medical Association in Chicago, delegates will vote on a recommendation that “Internet/video-gaming addiction” be categorized as a formal diagnosis. This is a step toward legitimizing the behavior as a mental disorder with its own criteria for diagnosis and treatment.

And while laymen may argue that there are many Internet-related behaviors that could be classified as an “addiction,” including viewing Internet pornography, clinical psychologists like Internet addiction specialist Dr. Kenneth Woog, see a specific distinction for online video gaming.

“Some people believe that my kid is addicted to chat on the Internet, or addicted to porn on the Internet. Those are really a means to an end. Chat is just communication – people wanting to talk, so people do that excessively or really enjoy that, but I wouldn’t call that an addiction, per se,” Woog explained to XBIZ. “There are individuals who use the Internet to access pornography. But again, it could be any medium – TV, video, printed material. That’s a separate and distinct use. It’s just using the computer as a medium.

“Now when it comes to gaming, the actual design of the game, the structure of the game and the play of the game, I believe, in of itself, with the characteristics of an individual, can cause an addiction. So I see that as very distinct,” Woog said.

The recommendation is in response to an AMA report that says online gamers, especially players who participate in MMORPGs, massive multi-player online role-playing games like World of Warcraft or Everquest (sometimes referred to as “Evercrack”), are often socially isolated and likely to be addicted to online video gaming.

In an article posted on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel website, Orlando pediatrician Joseph Keeley said, “There are some kids who clearly act like they're addicted and, when you take them off, they'll go through withdrawal. They'll get irritable and hard to live with.”

Keeley, whose daughter attends Northwestern University, said a dean at the university told him that 3 to 4 percent of male freshmen students stop attending class once they get high-speed Internet hooked up in their dorm rooms.

Based on clinical needs, Woog cites the importance of categorizing Internet/video gaming addiction as a separate disorder. Because, while gaming addiction has similarities with other compulsive behaviors, specifically defining it as a disorder will lead to a specific methodology for treatment.

“Based on my research and clinical work with this population, I’m convinced that some computer gaming players do become addicted with symptoms mirroring those of substance addictions,” Woog said. “To clarify, there is no health condition called ‘addiction.’ Instead, the condition is specifically based on two levels of impairment; abuse and dependency, with dependency causing the greatest impairment. I estimate that between 6 and 10 percent of MMORPG computer gaming players would meet the criteria for dependency if diagnostic criteria from the substance addictions were applied.”

If the AMA accepts the recommendation, the next step would be for the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to categorize “Internet/video gaming addiction” as a clinical disorder.

A formal statement from the APA said, “Psychiatrists are concerned about the wellbeing of children who spend so much time with video games that they fail to develop friendships, get appropriate outdoor exercise or suffer in their schoolwork. Certainly a child who spends an excessive amount of time playing video games may be exposed to violence and may be at higher risks for behavioral and other health problems. We look forward to further exploring this issue with our colleagues at the AMA House of Delegates meeting.”

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