British Columbia

'Gaming disorder': recognition means more available help, say addiction experts

Benjamin Wong, a clinical counsellor with the youth and family program at Richmond Addictions Services, said recognizing that gaming as an addiction is a crucial step toward treating it.

World Health Organization added gaming to draft list of diseases

A gaming disorder can be both a condition itself or a symptom of underlying issues, says addiction counsellor Benjamin Wong. (Canadian Press)

The World Health Organization has sparked debate by including "gaming disorder" in the latest draft of recognized diseases.

On the International Classification of Diseases list, gaming is categorized as a disorder due to addictive behaviour. For someone to have the disorder, they must continue to game despite negative consequences.

Benjamin Wong, a clinical counsellor with the youth and family program at Richmond Addictions Services, said recognizing that gaming addiction is a crucial step toward treating it.

"It should be looked at through the lens of addiction," Wong said.

"Research has been telling us all these years that long-term behavioural addictions — pornography, sex, gambling, shopping and video gaming — they do significantly alter brain chemistry."

Those suffering from the disorder and who undergo a digital media detox can experience psychological withdrawal effects, he told CBC guest host of B.C. Almanac Renee Filippone.  

"They can experience withdrawal much like the person withdrawing from alcohol or any sort of drugs," he said.

Condition, coping mechanism 

Video games in themselves are not the problem, Wong said, but it becomes a disorder when it negatively overflows onto other aspects of life.

He said he's seen it impact people's ability to go to work or school, develop relationships with others or cause them to neglect their health.

Gaming disorder is a condition on its own but Wong said he's also observed it as a symptom of other underlying mental health issues.

"Often times what we see is that video gaming becomes an issue for folks suffering from pre-existing [issues]," he said. "They often began with using it as a coping mechanism."

When the gaming is addressed, it's easier to deal with the other issues as well, he said.

Cam Adair, who used to live in Victoria, B.C., is the founder of Game Quitters. At one point in his life, he was addicted to gaming and would play for 16 hours a day. (YouTube)

Addiction support

Cam Adair, founder of the support community Game Quitters, said recognizing gaming as a medical condition and addiction will mean more available help for those suffering from the disorder.

"Now we actually have a criteria that we can look at and say 'Do you have a problem or not?' he said. "It's very important for encouraging people who need help to be able to go and get it."

Recognizing the disorder internationally could also have insurance implications, Adair said, and make treatment more accessible.

"There are a lot of people right now who need support for video game addiction and have to pay out of pocket," he said. "To actually be able to get support and use insurance to pay for it is a really important thing."

The addition is listed in the recent draft of the disease list ICT-11, which is scheduled to be released in 2018. It does not specify prevention or treatment options.

To hear more, click on the audio link below:

With files from B.C. Almanac