Gaming and Internet addiction are not official disorders in the United States
Internet addiction warrants more study before it can be classified, psychiatrist says
Psychiatrist: "My personal belief is that eventually it will become an official disorder"
This story is part of a CNN series called “Gaming Reality.”
Late last year, a video producer and I visited South Korea, which is said to be the global hub for gaming addiction, as well as gaming addiction treatment.
There we met with three young men who had been in some form of treatment for their obsession with video games – everything from “talk therapy” with counselors to “virtual-reality” treatment, which is designed to create negative associations between the player and the game they can’t stop playing.
We met a 17-year-old who said he felt like online games were “pulling him” away from the real world. Others said they had contemplated suicide or played for up to 20 hours per day. The obsessions came with real consequence for these young men. Some had damaged relationships with family members; one found himself unemployed and unable to dig out of a rut.
But can these obsessions be classified as Internet or gaming addiction?
For an expert opinion, I turned to Dr. Charles O’Brien, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the working group that will determine whether such disorders make an official list in the United States. The group decided to recommend that more research be conducted before Internet addiction could be listed as an official disorder in the United States.
The following transcript of our conversation is edited for clarity and length:
CNN: What does the research on gaming and Internet addiction say, in general?
O’Brien: That’s a very good question. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) committee that I chair has been totally guided by research data. There are a lot of people who want us to add all kinds of conditions to the DSM. Besides Internet addiction or gaming addiction, there’s jogging addiction, sex addiction, food addiction. There are all kinds of pressures, but we go by the data, and we go by data in referee journals.
We think (Internet addiction) is something. I even went to Beijing to visit a hospital that is dedicated to what the Chinese call Internet addiction, and it was full of young men who had been brought in by their parents because they had been spending hours a day and neglecting their studies and their health, even, playing these various games. Typically it’s “World of Warcraft” that they’re playing. But they don’t really have what we consider to be evidence (that this is a disorder).
CNN: Is there anything that’s known for sure about Internet addiction?
O’Brien: There have been clinical studies. They’re all anecdotes. As a clinician, I think I’ve seen a few cases, but they were very variable. And there are a lot of things we don’t know. Such as, is this a phase that someone is going through?
Even in my own family, I have a son who was 13 and 14 and was spending hours a day playing Internet games. They do it in groups. Their partners may be in China or Japan. They do it on the Internet. And they neglect their studies. Eventually, he kind of outgrew it, and now he’s in college and is an honors student.