Can Children Become Addicted to Video Games?

Written by P. Humbargar

Edited by A. Noelle

There has been a good deal of debate over the past few years about the dangers of excessive video game playing and the potential for “video game addiction.” Since most children today grow up playing video games, this is an issue for parents and other caretakers to at least be aware of.

Image: Stuart Miles

Some mental health professionals believe that video game addiction is very real, and works similarly to gambling addiction, with many negative mental health consequences. A study led by Iowa State professor Dr. Douglas Gentile, seems to show a link between pathological gaming in children and certain mental health problems.

Dr. Gentile’s study, entitled, “Pathological Video Game Use Among Youths: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study,” was reported last year in the journal Pediatrics. Gentile adapted criteria used to diagnose pathological gambling (the only medically recognized behavioral addiction) in his study. More than 3,000 children in Singapore, attending third grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade were surveyed and followed over a two-year period. Factors measured included weekly game play, impulsivity, social competence, depression, social phobia, anxiety, and school performance. A child was considered to have a pathological gaming problem if he displayed 5 out of 10 specific symptoms.

The study found that around 9% of the children had some degree of pathological gaming issues; about 7% of these had symptoms similar to adults with pathological gambling problems. Greater impulsivity and poor social skills seemed to be the major risk factors; and mental health problems and difficulties in school were observed as outcomes.

Gentile’s study has had its share of critics, particularly those in the video gaming industry. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) called the study deeply flawed. While admitting that all studies have limitations, Gentile stands by the validity of the study’s results. He says that video games cause a body’s biochemistry to change in many of the same ways it does when taking cocaine and that a tolerance is built up over time, which looks like a substance addiction.

Although Gentile’s study adds important information to the discussion about whether video gaming is “addictive,” additional research is needed before video game addiction is accepted as a medically recognized behavioral addiction.

Perhaps the good news coming out of the study for parents is that 90% of kids play video games without having any pathological gaming symptoms. But what about the other 10%? What exactly are the symptoms of video game addiction?

According to video-game-addiction.org (an educational website sponsored by CRC Health Group, an addiction treatment provider), symptoms to watch for include the following:

  • “Most non-school hours are spent on the computer or playing video games”
  • “Falling asleep in school”
  • “Falling behind with assignments”
  • “Worsening grades”
  • “Lying about computer or video game use”
  • “Choosing to use the computer or play video games, rather than see friends”
  • “Dropping out of other social groups (clubs or sports)”
  • “Being irritable when not playing a video game or being on the computer”

The website also says that physical symptoms may manifest, including carpal tunnel syndrome, problems with sleeping, various body aches, dry eyes, failure to eat regularly, and neglect of personal hygiene.

Whether or not “video game addiction” is a medically recognized disorder, any child displaying such symptoms over a period of time should certainly not be ignored, and professional help should be sought out.

To read the full report in Pediatrics, click here.

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One comment

  1. Clarita Hladek

    Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino or online—problem gambling can strain relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial catastrophe. You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay your debts. You may think you can’t stop but, with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life. The first step is recognizing and acknowledging the problem.^

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