Gaming addiction, a rising disorder

The implications of gaming addiction for human health and well-being are far more serious than is widely believed. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) highlights a direct link between gaming addiction and psychiatric illnesses. Gaming addiction, the study found, can trigger a variety of mental health illnesses and disorders including depression, anxiety, stress and psychiatric distress. Video games like Fortnite, Forza, Destiny and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds are keeping youngsters hooked to smartphones and video consoles, even driving them to self-harm. Apart from gaming, social media apps like Facebook and Instagram are proving to be highly addictive, with youth developing dependence on social media for virtual self-validation. Worryingly, their numbers are rising. According to experts at Nimhans, in 2014, 2-3 gaming addicts sought help every week at the institute’s Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) Clinic. That figure doubled by 2018. That gaming addiction is a serious problem meriting the focused attention of health professionals is evident from the fact that the World Health Organisation included gaming disorder in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) last year. The UN agency has warned that gaming addiction could be as addictive as cocaine and gambling. There have been instances of people gaming themselves to death.

The gaming industry has been strongly critical of health professionals linking excessive gaming to mental health disorders. It has accused those pressing the panic button over gaming of pathologising normal behaviour. Gamers argue that mental health professionals are making a mountain out of a molehill. Indeed, gaming disorders do not afflict everyone who indulges in digital or video gaming and gaming addiction is still not commonplace. However, this is a problem that is growing in severity. Identifying it early can help with prevention. Those who engage in gaming should be mindful of the amount of time they spend on it. If they are into gaming activities to the exclusion of their studies, work or other daily activities and their relationships, they could be on their way to becoming gaming addicts.

Gaming addicts suffer disturbed sleep, irritability, restlessness, irregular eating patterns and reduced involvement in offline businesses or social activity. Like other addictions, gaming addiction is often denied by the person suffering from it. Family members, friends, teachers and colleagues at the workplace are best positioned to notice these symptoms. It is important that public health authorities and NGOs spread awareness of the addiction and its symptoms. This will go a long way in helping an addict’s inner circle to recognise the symptoms, intervene swiftly and seek professional help.

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Gaming addiction, a rising disorder

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