Video Game Addiction is an Official Mental Health Diagnosis but Treatment is Hard to Find

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  For years, many health professionals, and parents, have recognized addictive gaming behavior as a serious problem. The World Health Organization now has gaming disorder as an official mental health diagnosis.

The World Health Organization said gaming disorder has to do with the amount of gaming and if it results in significant impairment in personal, social, educational or occupational functions of life for at least 12 months.

“Perhaps their school functioning is suffering and that has serious long-term consequences, right? That can change what college you get into or if you even get into a college which can change your career," Iowa State Psychology Professor Douglas Gentile said.

Gentile has studied gaming addiction for decades, he thinks when people excessively play video games despite the consequences they fall under the category of an impulse disorder.

"Were you know you should do your homework, but you just can’t stop playing. Where you know you should go to be but just one more level. So, you’re not able to manage that impulse," Gentile said.

Professor Gentile studied 3,000 kids nationally over the span of 3 years. He found more than 90% of people can play games and not have a problem but when kids did become addicted to video games, there were debilitating consequences.

“Their depression increased, their anxiety increased, their social phobias increased, their grades got worse. If they stopped being addicted over the years of this study, then we saw the opposite pattern," Gentile said.

Gaming Disorder can happen at any age, but many national studies, including Professor Gentile's study, mainly focus on kids under the age of 18.

Because gaming disorder is still a new diagnosis, facilities like Blank Children’s Hospital are still working out treatment plans for the disorder.

"But when an official diagnosis is made it's more likely that we will see insurance companies starting to cover the cost of treatment," Dr. Amy Shriver, a Pediatrician at Blank Children's Hospital said.

Dr. Shriver said right now the treatment plan is still being researched but there are many options for help.

"Family therapy is one place I would start; cognitive behavioral therapy is another option. We’re treating it sort of like an addiction," Dr. Shriver said.

Dr. Shriver said monitoring how often your kids use games is just as important as looking at the kind of the games as well. She recommends a website called healthychildren.org, it helps families communicate about gaming and set up different plans.

Not all games are bad, there are many educational games that can increase your abilities. Dr. Shriver recommends an app called Bedtime Math.

"It's sort of like a game, it's not as interactive as some other games but there's science behind it that shows it can increase a child's math abilities and increase them about six months from their peers if they're using that at night," Dr. Shriver said.