“Gaming disorder- the new malady”- 24 June 2018.

Anees dropped out of his professional degree course in the second year and decided to quit it forever. He lost interest in the course in spite of having the aptitude for it. From the time he joined college last two years he had gone into ‘online gaming’ and gradually got hooked to it without ‘realising’ it. He lost control over his life, lost his sense of priorities and sunk deeply into gaming. On probing we realised he was earning money from the games and had made quite a sum out of it but had lost an equal amount too. He had decided in his mind to make a career in gaming and earn huge amounts of money as others were doing worldwide but lately he had been failing in that too and all his chances of participating in the international competition crashed. That is when he woke up but he is not giving it up easily. He still wanted to pursue it in spite of no results.

Many a parent frets and fumes over their children being addicted to the internet. The children too complain that their parents are equally hooked to the social media and are often seen ‘online’! Technology addiction has impacted all categories of the population and cuts across every segment of the world population. We are increasingly seeing cases of teens and youth afflicted by this since quite a few years. This has inevitably led to loss of concentration in studies, lack of sleep at night, sluggishness during the day and lowering of overall performance in school education and sports. One of the first signs is the increase in time spent online either chatting on social media or video gaming. It could start with an hour and increase to eight to ten hours a day. However, besides these general symptoms which can be temporary too for those who can control their habits, curtail their engagement and come back to the reality, the addiction diagnosis follows specific criteria that needs to be understood carefully.

Finally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared ‘gaming disorder’ as the new mental health condition in the ICD 11 (International Classification of Diseases, 11th Edition) on Monday the 18th of June 2018. Of course this has raised a controversy among the professional community with many disagreeing of the inclusion of the gaming disorder among the list of diseases. It has sparked off a debate globally and is good, for it will lead to more international collaborations in research and understanding of the disorder. Some feel this should have been declared long ago and some feel it is unnecessary.

‘I’m not creating a precedent,’ says Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, the member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, who proposed the new diagnosis to WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. Instead, he said, WHO has followed “the trends, the developments, which have taken place in populations and in the professional field.”

There are three major diagnostic features or characteristics of the gaming disorder as stated by the ICD 11. The first one is that ‘the gaming behaviour takes precedence over other activities to the extent that other activities are taken to the periphery’.

The second feature is ‘impaired control of these behaviours’. This means that even when the negative consequences occur, the habit continues or escalates as the afflicted person loses control over his behaviour. For a diagnosis to be made a behaviour pattern of “sufficient severity” has to be observed according to the ICD.

A third feature is that the condition leads to significant distress and impairment in personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning. The impact is real, says Poznyak and may include ‘disturbed sleep patterns, like diet problems, like a deficiency in the physical activity.’

Overall, the main characteristics are “very similar” to the diagnostic features of substance use disorders and gambling disorder, he said. Gambling disorder “is another category of clinical conditions which are not associated with a psychoactive substance use but at the same time being considered as addictive as addictions.’ For a diagnosis to be made, the negative pattern of behaviour must last at least 12 months and not an episode of just a few days or months.

Some professionals have already started residential programmes for ‘gaming addicts’ which are similar to the ones run for substance abuse disorders. They work on the same principles of de-addiction centres where the inmates are exposed to group therapy, physical methods of exercise, cognitive behaviour therapy, forming of social support groups and keeping off the web! The professional community in India has already started working on methods of therapy for overall technology addictions which includes excess use of social media including activities such as chatting, gaming, or searching the web for this and that.

A teen I spoke to believes it is hilarious to include it as a disease as many youth have made ‘gaming’ a career where they earn good enough money. It is like any other sport that people play and make a career of. We need to make a difference here between people who are addicted to ‘gaming’ and to the ones who are building a career out of it. This is an important differentiation to understand. The guy I mentioned above tried to make a career out of it and in the process dropped out of college and achieved neither this nor that. This seems to a grey area for reckoning.

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