As the Internet and gaming industry has developed over the past few decades, there have been an increasing number of people that may be considered addicted to Internet gaming. The term addiction is loosely defined, however, and may consist of physical and/or mental properties. While it is sometimes easy to see the social or physical aspects of a person’s gaming addiction, there must be a definite line that is established in order to accurately diagnose an addiction.
With the recent release of the fifth edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authors have taken into account the discrepancy behind defining Internet gaming addiction. While they do recognize that Internet gaming could be considered a mental illness, they do not warrant any certainty in the matter. Section III of the DSM-V is where uncertain illnesses, such as Internet gaming addiction, are classified, effectively postponing the illness’s addition to the DSM-V for more consideration. While the topic of Internet gaming addiction is a fairly new topic, there simply is not enough research to make any conclusions, according to the DSM-V. However, the addition of Internet gaming addiction to Section III urges researchers to further examine the cause of the disorder.
The addition of a mental illness to the DSM has very practical implications with regards to treating the disorder. The DSM-V serves as a comprehensive analysis of psychiatric disorders, allowing for health care providers to accurately diagnose a mental illness. Not only can the DSM-V help to diagnose the illness, but it also suggests treatment options, insurance advice, legal implications and general information. Therefore, a change to the DSM must be carefully evaluated before its effects can take place.
While many argue that Internet gaming addiction is ready to be implemented into the DSM based on behavioral studies, an opposing view states that the science behind the illness is not fully understood. It has been agreed on, through research studies such as fMRI scans, that Internet gaming can affect the same areas of the brain that are responsible for the reward or pleasure centers of the brain. The activation of these areas has been shown to correlate with addictive behaviors, but has not yet been proven to be an underlying cause of these behaviors. Also, the same brain areas that are activated through use of known addictive drugs are the same brain areas that are activated with Internet gaming, shown through studies such as “Brain Activity and Desire for Internet Video Game Play” by Doug Han et al. , published in 2011 in Comprehensive Psychiatry.
The subsequent question then ensues: can we treat Internet gaming addiction the same way that we treat addictive drugs? There are a few complications that arise when treating a human for Internet gaming addiction. First of all, it is very time-consuming to conduct such research because there is a small community of people who may be addicted to gaming and a large research population would be needed to generalize any treatments. Also, it is against experimental guidelines to test on human subjects based on the risk of adverse side effects. Therefore, the research methods of treating such an illness have not been developed to the point where we can rely on the results.
What about the behavioral aspect of Internet gaming addiction? Studies such as “Excessive Computer Game Playing: Evidence for Addiction and Aggression?” by Dr. S.M. Grüsser et al., published in 2006 in CyberPsychology & Behavior, show that a small percentage of gamers exhibit addictive behaviors, such as excessive time playing games and a constant desire to play more. However, these behaviors cannot be directly related to a specific Internet gaming addiction because other factors such as personality and genetics play a role in addictive behaviors. As of now, there is no research method available to account for all of these additional factors that may confound the results. Therefore, these behavioral studies do not lend any factual evidence to Internet gaming addiction.
In my opinion, the decision to delay the addition of Internet gaming addiction to the DSM-V was ultimately the correct choice. Because there are many discrepancies relating to the causes of Internet gaming addiction, we cannot yet be certain that it is a verified illness that needs a specific treatment. The research merely isn’t as developed as it needs to be in order to elicit the correct treatment or attention to such a disorder. However, as research progresses and a better understanding of Internet gaming addiction becomes apparent, I believe that it will be considered on a more serious level and will be added to the DSM if need be.