Internet Gaming Disorder: What is it?

Recent studies have shown that 8-18 year olds devote about 53 hours a week to screen time. Many psychologists, particularly child development experts, believe so much time in front of a computer screen is harmful. So, let’s review the facts. 

It used to be exciting just to chat using Skype or Facetime, and now almost any question can be answered with a few pulses on a screen that doesn’t even require real buttons. Technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate, and accompanying the digital evolution are advantages and disadvantages.

Because it has advanced so quickly, there is a distinct generational difference in a person’s relationship to technology. Generation Xers are digital immigrants, born before its widespread adoption. Generation Y/Millenials, i.e. those born between 1980 and 1995, are digital natives, who’ve been interacting with digital technology since childhood.
sleep-cell-phone

The digital immigrant/digital native difference is important because digital natives are so comfortable that they are likely to ignore its potential negative effects.

And as time goes on, we are seeing children – and adults – spend more and more time looking at screens. In sync with these developments, a disorder known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) has come to be recognized by psychologists. IGD is defined as a pattern of excessive and prolonged internet gaming that results in a cluster of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Notably, IGD bears a troubling resemblance to the DSM-5 definition of substance addiction: “behavior that continues despite adverse consequences.”

An individual dealing with IGD will progressively lose control over gaming, devoting at least 30 hours a week to it, and might even lie to family members or therapists regarding the amount of time spent gaming. They might use internet games to escape or relieve a negative mood. In fact, they also might dream about it, become obsessed with it when at school or work (yes, adults can get addicted too!)

The table below illustrates some of the symptoms and consequences of IGD.

SIGNS and SYMPTOMS

CONSEQUENCES

  • Giving up previously preferred activities
  • Losing sleep
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Increased arguments with parents
  • School failure
  • Job loss
  • Marriage failure
  • Students show declining grades    or eventual school failure
  • Family responsibilities neglected

 

Further, an individual with this disorder will often show tolerance and withdrawal symptoms analogous to substance abuse disorder. This leads them to continue gaming despite knowledge of growing problems in the non-virtual world. These problems might include bargaining and deal-making to extend time, threats when taken away, and sneaky and manipulative behavior in an effort to continue playing or engaging in the games/technology.

All in all, an internet or gaming addiction needs be taken addressed and taken seriously. For more information and some concrete steps to take, check my next post on specific psychological problems caused by IGD and how parents can work on preventing it.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.