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Finally, Some Good News on Teen Video Game Addiction

While video game use is problematic for some teens, researchers say addiction is rare.Video game addiction is a popular term for a compulsive, psychologically and socially dysfunctional pattern of video game playing. While the condition has no official standing in the U.S., it is designated for review by the American Psychiatric Association, which creates the country’s preeminent addiction/mental health guidelines. In a study published in 2013 in the journal Addiction, a German research team set out to accurately estimate the frequency of video game addiction in both teenage and adult populations. The members of this team concluded that only a small number of people appear to have symptoms of the condition.

When most people think of addiction, they tend to conjure up images of substance addiction, a condition that occurs when a person’s brain becomes dependent on the presence of alcohol or certain drugs, and that person subsequently develops a harmful or personally or socially negligent pattern of behavior centered on substance use and procurement. However, current scientific evidence indicates that people unaffected by substance-related issues can also develop brain changes and dysfunctional patterns of behavior that manifest in more or less the same ways as substance-based addiction. Psychologists and other mental health professionals commonly refer to these behavioral patterns as process addictions or behavioral addictions.

Video gaming is one of several activities that can potentially trigger a process addiction in any given individual. According to the results of a study published in 2013 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, apparent risk factors for the onset of a video gaming addiction include use of video game participation as a shield against real-world problems, reliance on video gaming as a primary way of interacting socially with others, and enthusiastic participation in games that feature an extensive in-game reward system for players. Games most likely to combine these risk factors belong to a gaming category called Massively Multiple Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). Players of these games often participate in gaming for extended periods of time and develop elaborate, detailed in-game identities separate from their everyday identities.

Current Official Status

In the U.S., substance addiction meets the basic criteria for a mental health condition called substance use disorder. People affected by this disorder must meet specific guidelines issued by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in order to qualify for an official diagnosis. As of 2013, the APA is only beginning to acknowledge the scientific reality of process addictions. In fact, only one process addiction -- officially known as gambling disorder -- is recognized under APA guidelines. However, the American Psychiatric Association is now weighing the pros and cons of recognizing video game addiction as a condition called Internet gaming disorder. The organization will make a final decision on the disorder’s status after reviewing additional research on the subject in upcoming years.

Frequency of Video Game Addiction

In the study published in Addiction, researchers from Germany’s University of Munster and University of Hohenheim sought to determine how often video game addiction affects teens and adults. In order to achieve this goal, they conducted a survey on gaming habits that included 580 teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18; 1,866 adults between the ages of 19 and 39; and 1,930 adults age 40 or older. The survey was based on a tool called the Gaming Addiction Short Scale, which measures aspects of mental/psychological well-being in video game players, such as level of social withdrawal, level of conflict with others, daily mood fluctuations, importance of gaming to the individual’s daily routine and the ability to voluntarily stop playing video games at any given point in time.

After reviewing the survey’s results, the researchers found that only a very small minority of participants (0.2 percent) had high enough scores on the Gaming Addiction Short Scale to qualify for a tentative, unofficial diagnosis of video game addiction. Another 3.7 percent of the participants met more than half of the criteria for addiction, and therefore qualified as “problematic” users of video games with some dysfunctional tendencies. Interestingly, 7.6 percent of all teenage study participants fell into the category of problematic usage, a rate far higher than the rate found in young adults or older adults.


Based on their findings, the authors of the study in Addiction concluded that video game addiction is not a particularly widespread problem. They also concluded that, when problematic (not addictive) usage occurs, it is typically linked to such factors as generally low levels of life satisfaction, aggressive behavior, low levels of self-esteem and a relatively poor ability to interact socially with others.

Posted on November 26th, 2013

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