Understanding Gaming Disorder: A New Diagnosis

What parents need to know.

Posted Jun 19, 2019

Image via Shutterstock/624801452
Source: Image via Shutterstock/624801452

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently added Gaming Disorder to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). In the 11th edition of the ICD, experts made a decision to add gaming disorder to the diagnostic categories to help address concerns around unhealthy behaviors around the world.

Despite this new label, there remains some controversy about the new disorder. In an article published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, the authors described that the disorder may represent “a compulsion, an impulse control problem, or a behavioral addiction” (Wichstrøm, Stenseng, Belsky, Soest, & Hygen, 2019).

What is Gaming Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, gaming disorder is recommended for further study in the United States. However, as noted by WHO, at the international level, gaming disorder has been identified as a disorder; some countries such as South Korea have gone so far as to identify treatment approaches. In a story published by TIME, a spokesperson from WHO stated that there is general agreement among experts around the world that some people show a “pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control,” prioritizing gaming over other daily responsibilities. The TIME article also reports that gaming behavior may shift into a disorder when it takes precedence over other daily activities, and starts to impair a person’s relationships, school or work responsibilities for at least a year.

The American Psychiatric Association has proposed the following characteristics to be considered gaming disorder (which are consistent with the WHO definition):

  • Preoccupation with gaming.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability).
  • Tolerance—the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge.
  • Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming.
  • Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming.
  • Continuing to game despite problems.
  • Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming.
  • The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness.
  • Risk, having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming.

Addressing Concerns with Gaming Disorder

Despite continued concerns about children and adolescents being overly focused on smartphones and gaming, there remains a lot to be known about this potential new disorder. Researchers from the U.S. and Norway have expressed concerns about the symptoms being too general, making it difficult to determine if someone simply has a strong interest in gaming versus if they are addicted. (Wichstrøm et al., 2019). As with any disorder, the individual must exhibit significant impairment in their functioning to warrant a diagnosis.

To determine next steps, more research is clearly needed to identify if the disorder exists worldwide and what symptoms are needed for it to be diagnosed. Wichstrøm and colleagues (2019) also note the need for improved assessment methods that would allow for screening and to help better understand how the disorder develops. One thing that has been noted is that may children and adolescents engage in gaming as a way to manage their negative mood. As a result, some youth who may be experiencing problems with peers or social isolation may engage in gaming as a coping mechanism.

The American Psychological Association documents some efforts to help families address concerns. According to the APA, if a child engages in excessive gaming, work to reduce the amount of time allowed for gaming and increase opportunities for peer interactions. If you notice concerns with your child, be sure to seek consultation from a licensed mental health provider or psychologist to help better understand your child and identify ways to help them manage their emotions and behavior.

Copyright 2019 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.

LinkedIn Image Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock


Wichstrøm, L., Stenseng, F., Belsky, J., von Soest, T., & Hygen, B. W. (2019). Symptoms of Internet Gaming Disorder in Youth: Predictors and Comorbidity. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(1), 71-83.