Addiction to video games and the Internet is gaining legitimacy as a psychological disorder, and experts say it’s not uncommon for kids to become violent when their ‘drug’ is taken away
Video game addiction will be acknowledged for the first time in the updated edition of the American Psychological Association diagnostic manual, DSM-5, out in May.
Violent video games can be as addicting as drugs, experts say.
“It affects the same pleasure centers in the brain that make people want to come back,” said Dr. Michael Fraser, a clinical psychologist on the upper East Side and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College.
“If you look at alcoholism and Internet addiction, it’s the exact same pattern of behavior,” agreed Dr. Kimberly Young, a psychologist and founder of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction in Bradford, Penn.
Kids are among the most vulnerable to video game addiction, experts said, and may become violent when their “drug” is taken away.
“Kids can become physically and verbally abusive,” said Fraser. “Most parents have trouble imagining this—that their 12-year-old boy would push his mother when she tries to unplug the game.”
Games like ‘Call of Duty’ are open-ended, unlike arcade games of yore, which may make them even more addictive.
Young agreed, based on her 19 years of researching Internet-based addictions.
“There definitely seems to be a correlation between violent game use and aggressive behavior,” Young said. “[Kids] will throw things, they’ll hit their parents, they’ll start becoming violent at school. Parents say, ‘he was a good boy; he didn’t act like this before.’
“The reality is, these games must teach you something,” she continued. “When you’re actively participating, looking at various weapons, getting reinforcement and recognition for your achievements from the game and from other players…I think it desensitizes you.”
Video game and Internet addiction usually point to other mental problems including anxiety, depression and trouble forming healthy relationships, said Fraser. His patients—mostly boys in middle, high school and early college—use games as means of escape, whether from social anxiety or from a learning disability that makes concentrating on schoolwork difficult.
“When it comes time to bear down and concentrate, rather than work through that frustration they escape into gaming, like a drug,” Fraser said.
Dr. Kimberly Young, director of the Center for Online Addiction and a researcher of Internet-based addictions, says there ‘definitely seems to be a correlation’ between violent video game use and aggressive behavior in kids. ‘The reality is, these games must teach you something,’ she said.
Modern day video games may be even more addictive, he added, because they are open-ended and allow players to save their place and pick back up again, unlike the older generations of games like Pac-Man, where players lose their allotted lives and are forced to start over.
As with other addictions, some people may be more susceptible than others.
“In other words we wouldn’t want anybody to think, when we use the term ‘video game addiction’ or ‘compulsive gaming’ that the problem lies in the video games, any more than the problem for an alcoholic lies in a can of beer,” Fraser said. “Many people can have one can of beer, and that’s it. But others may have a biological predisposition towards addictive behavior in general.”
Cases such as Newtown shooter Adam Lanza—who kept a videogame-style score sheet of past murders—may be rare, but Fraser and Young agreed that parents need to actively set usage and access boundaries.
“Monitoring is very important,” Fraser said. “If you put an iPad in a 6-year-old’s hands, that’s no different than sending them into an R-rated movie theater unsupervised.”
Dr. Michael Fraser, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan who specializes in treating video game addiction, says troubled kids often use games as a means of escape from depression and anxiety.
“When you see a heavy drinker going into a bar, you know what they’re going in there for,” he also said. “But when a kid goes into the library or their room and sits at a laptop, it’s not always apparent that they’re going to do something detrimental.”
There’s no formal diagnosis for video game addiction—but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Starting this year, a variety of Internet-related psychological conditions – from compulsive gaming to online gambling – will take a major step towards legitimacy when they are mentioned for the first time in DSM-5, the updated manual of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, under the heading “Internet use gaming disorder.”
That could pave the way for more research funding and health insurance coverage—as well as a greater understanding of how these disorders operate and how they can be treated.
7 SIGNS OF INTERNET AND GAMING ADDICTION
– Secrecy or lying about use
– Spending more than 24-30 hours a week online not for work or school
– Mood shifts, such as increased irritability, if access is taken away
– A significant decrease in other activities and interests
– Neglecting friends, family and other responsibilities
– Sleep problems
– Deterioration of personal hygiene
It’s normal for kids (and adults) to be a little obsessed with a new game or gadget in the weeks after they first get it, Fraser says. But if the following signs of problematic Internet or gaming use persist for longer than 3-6 months, it may be worth seeking psychological help.