The World Health Organization has classified compulsive gambling behavior as an addiction and is to be listed as a mental health condition.

Gamers who play online casino games or console video games obsessively should, the WHO declared, be treated for the “disorder” as though it was any other form of mental health condition.

The 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which will be published by the WHO later this year, classified gambling addiction as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior so severe that it takes precedence over other life interests.”

Even though many countries have already identified gambling obsession as a major public health issue and mental health professionals are treating it as an addiction the WHO’s document marks the first time that codes for the disease including signs and symptoms have been standardized.

According to the WHO the symptoms of a gambling addiction include:

– impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration)

– increased priority given to gaming

– continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences

The document suggests that abnormal gaming behaviour be observed over a period of at least 12 months “for a diagnosis to be assigned.” However, if the symptoms are severe, that period can be shortened.

Reactions

As increasing numbers of people play console and online casino games, governments and mental health professionals struggle to contain the problem.

One person who has been involved in the issue for a long time is Dr. Richard Graham, lead technology addiction specialist at the Nightingale Hospital in London.

Graham welcomes the decision to recognize the condition, saying:

“It is significant because it creates the opportunity for more specialised services. It puts it on the map as something to take seriously.”

He warns, however that it’s important to properly diagnose the addiction, saying that, by labeling gambling addiction as a disease,”

Graham says that always asks himself one basic question: “Is the addiction taking up neurological real-estate, dominating thinking and preoccupation?”

Graham sees about 50 new cases of digital addiction each year. His diagnosis is based on a wide range of criteria including whether the activity is affecting an individual’s day-to-day functioning, his sleep, his eating habits, his educational progress and his socialization behaviors.

Professional Literature

Many psychiatrists refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) where Internet gaming disorder is described as a “condition for further study,” That manual was published in 2013 at which time Internet and other device-based gambling addictions were not officially recognised.

But now the world of gaming has changed significantly and professionals are trying to keep up.

In recent study from the University of Oxford, researchers discovered that, although children spend a lot of time viewing video content and playing on their devices, most managed to intertwine their digital pastimes with daily life.

Killian Mullan, one of the Oxford researchers, said: “People think that children are addicted to technology and in front of these screens 24/7, to the exclusion of other activities – and we now know that is not the case.

Our findings show that technology is being used with and in some cases perhaps to support other activities, like homework for instance, and not pushing them out. Just like we adults do, children spread their digital tech use throughout the day, while doing other things.”

The study looked at children aged eight to 18 with boys spending more time playing video games than girls.

As that study and other antidotal evidence indicates, gambling addiction is an adult issue.

Hidden Addiction

Gambling disorder is often referred to as a hidden addiction. That’s because there aren’t a lot of symptoms and signs associated with the condition. The level of severity can involve multiple components.

For instance, an individual may stop gambling for money because he’s lost all of his financial assets and/or social relationships. Another may have started playing obsessively because she was depressed but stopped because she became even more depressed – or even suicidal.

Another reason still may involve the repercussions that a gamer experiences from family, work, friends or society.

As with any addiction there are different levels of severity in the frequency of playing, duration of gaming time and, for real money players, the amount gambled.

Some players experience severe urges and cravings to get on their computer or console to start playing while others feel those desires intermittently.

There are also different levels of repercussions (legal, employment, relationships), comorbid symptoms ( such as depression, suicidality, impulsivity) and level of control that the individual has over these urges.

All of these factors help determine the appropriate treatment and help to predict treatment outcome.  To determine severity and assessment is generally made based on the total number of criteria endorsed.

How Gaming Addictions are Treated

As long as computer games are played to relax, reduce stress and engage in a social atmosphere with other players, it can be a healthy form of entertainment. When gaming starts to affect a player’s life in negative ways, it’s time for professional interference.

Some of the methods for treating gaming addictions include:

One-to-one Counselling

Counseling with a mental health professional using cognitive-behavioral therapy. It’s important for the individual to choose a therapist who has experience in working with addictions and, if possible, a specialty practice in working with computer game addictions. The therapist should be familiar with the world of online games.

In-Patient Intervention Programs

Spending time at an in-patient intervention program provides the person in treatment with a dedicated team of mental health professionals who are familiar with the specific problem and can help the individual re-program his/her life to eliminate the addiction.

Wilderness Therapy

Wilderness therapy programs are often suggested for younger addicts who need to leave their familiar environment to live in a group setting and meet challenges of living in the wilderness.

There is limited access to technology or electronic gadgets in this setting and the individual has time to heal and develop self-confidence while addressing some of the underlying issues that caused the addiction.

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