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Is Internet Gaming Addiction Real?

February 21, 2022
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Gaming disorder is defined as the excessive and obsessive usage of offline or online video games. Despite experiencing negative consequences, a gamer with compulsive gaming prioritises playing over other social activities. The obsession can grow to the point where one might use gaming to escape life and avoid other hobbies and daily activities causing severe distress or impairment.  

What is gaming disorder?

Internet gaming has gained immense popularity over the last four years. The industry boomed from $138.7B in 2018 to $178.2B in 2021. With the introduction of the 5G era, the gaming sector is the centre of attraction for significant adolescents and young adults. On the flip side of the thriving industry, it has also resulted in the rising incidents of gaming disorders. According to the Video Gaming Statistics of the UK 2022, 3-4% of gamers worldwide were addicted to games in 2021. 

In May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added the condition under the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD is a globally used diagnostic tool for classifying different disorders worldwide and aiding their research, causes, and possible treatments. Gaming disorder is outlined in the 11th Revision of ICD, defining it as “a pattern of periodic behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by several factors.”

Studies reveal that the disorder is limited to a small portion of people worldwide who participate in video gaming. Nevertheless, people involved in regular gaming should be cautious about the timespan they engage themselves in the activity, especially when the gaming leads to physiological or psychological changes in any way. 

Gaming Disorder in DSM-5 

Compulsive gaming disorder is summarised under the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is a manual for assessing and diagnosing mental disorders. Though there was a lack of evidence for including the condition in DSM-5 in 2013, it was suggested for further research. 

DSM-5 entails only substance-related disorders, such as tobacco, marijuana, opioids, alcohol, etc. Gambling is the only behavioural disorder that has been included in the manual. The DSM-5 states that the gaming disorder can be diagnosed only when it causes distress or impairment in a person’s life. The condition concerns only gaming and does not describe regular internet use, social media, or online gambling. 

Signs and Symptoms 

DSM-5 outlines specific symptoms to diagnose the gaming disorder.

  • Compulsive or obsessive gaming. 
  • Tolerance, the desire to spend more time gaming to satiate the yearn. 
  • Notable gaming withdrawal symptoms when taken away, such as anxiety, aggression, and sadness. 
  • Using gaming as an escape route from negative emotions, such as guilt or hopelessness.
  • Continue playing despite the evident negative consequences. 
  • Losing relationships or other significant aspects (e.g., job) due to gaming. 
  • Futile attempts to quit gaming. 
  • Misleading family members about the amount of time spent on gaming. 
  • Loss of interest in other activities.

The symptoms mentioned above can be periodic or continuous and should be evident for at least 12 months for a diagnosis. 

Physical impacts of gaming disorder include, 

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Migraines 
  • Eating irregularities 
  • Poor personal hygiene 
  • Backaches 

The psychological impact of gaming is predominantly evident, such as poor cognitive functioning, increased emotional difficulties, and can worsen the other underlying mental conditions. 


Many studies have suggested the simultaneous occurrence of depression and gaming addiction. It also suggests the existence of a bidirectional relationship between them. A person might play games to avoid emotional distress. However, the excessive engagement of games separates a person from social life, ultimately resulting in worsened depression, proving a direct relationship between gaming addiction and depression. 


Loneliness is distress or discomfort caused due to deficits in social relationships. Loneliness is not limited to the cause of gaming addiction but is also a consequence of the condition. The complementary relationship can be helpful for a brief time to distract an individual from a stressful situation. Nevertheless, prioritising gaming over interpersonal relationships aggravates loneliness. 

Social Anxiety 

Social anxiety is the discomfort caused in a social situation, apparent in most adolescents. Studies suggest that people with compulsive gaming are often prone to enhance social anxiety and withdrawal from interpersonal relationships. 

Gaming and Gender Differences 

Internet gaming has been studied concerning genders resulting in significant outcomes associated with mental health. Stereotypically, males are associated with activities involving action and destruction, whereas females are associated with more social activities. Due to this, most research on gaming focuses only on males. Female gamers often experience additional distress due to online harassment and hyper-sexualised female avatars, which can lead to depression, low self-esteem and other mental health issues.  Moreover, some studies show that females are more prone to gaming addiction than males. 

Prevention and Treatment

Irrespective of gender and age, it is foremost to start acting as soon as the symptoms surface.

  • Set the time limit for gaming. Schedule a fixed time to spend on gaming instead of complete withdrawal. If your child is addicted, try to create a disciplined environment in a non-forceful manner. Monitor the category of the game your child is engaged in.
  • Keep your gadgets away at night. Avoid late-night gaming sessions and stick to the daytime schedule. It is essential to be patient and prioritise a sane sleep over everything to keep your well-being healthy. 
  • Participate in other activities. It could be a picnic on weekends, routine exercise, or spending time with family and friends. Socialising with your significant people not only helps you with coping with gaming addiction but also symptoms of depression.
  • Communication. It is the most crucial key in understanding the condition. Try to share your opinion and your coping struggle with gaming. If your child is prone to gaming addiction, try to open a friendly conversation and let the trust foster without any fear.  

Getting Help from a Professional 

Sometimes it can be hard to see the problem within you. But when the people around you point it out often, it’s time to think about it. Ask yourself a few questions: Do you prefer gaming over other significant relationships, jobs or school? Is it interfering with the relationships around you? Do you use gaming as an escape door from your negative emotions regularly? 

If the self-discipline methods are unsuccessful, seek help from a medical professional. 

Gaming can be perceived as an apparent habit, especially in the pandemic. However, it is essential to keep track of your habits and the people around you. Psychological impacts are gradual and may not appear in an instant. Most importantly, ask for help when things get out of control. Hope is out there.


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