Gaming disorder? Doctor explains what parents need to know

The World Health Organization made it official. Video game addiction is a disease and should be classified the same as a gambling addiction.

The decision has been met with some disagreement among mental health professionals, but many parents would likely agree with WHO’s assessment.

Tammy Barnes, a mental health counselor isn’t surprised by the decision, and she doesn’t disagree with it. She says she has counseled young adults and teenagers who admit to playing video games nine to 15 hours a day.

“I’m seeing teens all the time that are extremely depressed and I ask ‘what does your day look like?’, well if we’re out of school, we’re not doing anything but playing video games all day,” she said.

Video game addiction has been noted before by psychologists but this is the first time it’s officially been recognized as a disease and one that should be treated by a professional. So how do you know if someone is addicted to video games? What are the signs? Barnes said it’s generally the same as with any addiction.

“You really have to look at it in terms of how is it affecting my life? Is it interfering with things such as my family, my marriage, work, social activity, being productive,” Barnes said. Notice she didn’t specifically speak about teenagers. Video gaming has been noted before as a problem among young men ages 21-30. One study showed young men in that age group are spending as much as 600 hours a year playing video games in their parents’ basement.

“They’re coming home from college and instead of getting out there and doing things, they’re living with mom and dad and playing video games,” Barnes said. How do you know if someone needs to seek help from a mental health professional?

Barnes said there are several warning signs. “Have their grades dropped? Are we missing meals because we’d rather be playing video games? Are we losing sleep? Are we freaking out when we’re told to get off the game? That’s not a normal response,” she said. “Are we not exercising anymore? Are we not going out with our friends anymore? Don’t want to do sports anymore?”

She has this suggestion for parents: “Being more aware of what your kids are doing, because many times they’re not in bed, they’re on their phone playing a game.”

If parents see these signs, Barnes said they should contact a mental health expert and talk with their kids.

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