Delhi-based Madhav Kansal, 18, is among the three toppers of his class. However, since last month, he has been complaining of wrist, neck and elbow pain and sleep disorder. The reason—he has been spending almost seven to eight hours a day playing games on his Xbox Series S gaming console.
Addiction to video or digital games is increasingly becoming a concern for many and is often observed among kids, students and even adults. With unrestricted access to high-speed broadband and easy availability of gaming paraphernalia, such a behaviour is often left unsupervised and unstructured and, hence, the multiple stressors associated with it are also big.
In medical parlance, such an addiction or the problematic and compulsive use of video or digital games is called gaming disorder. If left untreated, it can lead to long-term mental and physical health consequences. It can take over the person and even reduce self-control. The disorder is also known as video gaming addiction or internet gaming disorder.
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According to World Health Organization (WHO), gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behaviour characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
For gaming disorders to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.
Should all people who engage in gaming be concerned about developing gaming disorders? Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital or video-gaming activities. However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour.
Therefore, such kinds of addiction can lead to aggression, anxiety, or depression in some cases. So, is there a way to avoid it?
“It is clear from the large gap between the percentage of depressed gamers and non-gamers that there’s a strong connection between video games and depression. The young adult population, in particular, has been found to show a higher prevalence of depression, loneliness, and social anxiety in studies that have examined the correlation between gaming addiction and these mental health issues,” says Dr Mahesh Deshpande, cardiologist, Dr Hedgewar Hospital, Aurangabad, which comes under Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Vaidyakiya Pratishthan (BAVP).
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Depression can be exacerbated by playing too many video games. “Video game addicts are twice as likely to suffer from depression as non-gamers. Dopamine depletion, emotional repression, and a failure to feel motivated are just some of the problems that can arise from playing video games to excess. It is important to limit how much time is spent playing video games. We can achieve this by instituting strict playtime limits and keeping electronics like phones out of the bedroom. Health risks associated with prolonged sitting and playing can be mitigated by engaging in other daily activities like exercise,” adds Dr Deshpande.
Some of the early symptoms of gaming addiction include loss of appetite, irregular sleep patterns, and asocial behaviour. Excessive screen time has been linked to obesity, poor sleep or insomnia, behavioural problems like impulsive actions, loss of social skills, and violence, less time for play, eye strain, neck and back problems, anxiety, depression, and difficulties in concentration at work or school. Video games have effects—good and bad —that significantly influence cultural attitudes in children and adults alike.
Children as young as 12 years have become addicted to gaming, too. While young men are most at risk, many young are succumbing to it. Dr Himanshu Nirvan of Noida International Institute of Medical Sciences (NIIMS) says, “Psychological growth and lifestyle decisions are also altered due to gaming. Although these games have been marketed as useful instructional tools and have even been used for physical or cognitive rehabilitation in therapeutic settings, they can also pose a risk to the player’s physical or emotional health. The rising popularity of video games has raised awareness of the issue of obsessive gaming and led to the creation of treatment programmes for this addictive behaviour.”
For those trapped in a cycle of compulsive gaming, video games can become destructive. The focus of treatment for video game addiction is on behavioural modification therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which help the patient break free from the compulsive behaviours and obsessive thought patterns that characterise addiction.
“Such therapies are a relief, particularly for people who, as a result of their gaming addiction, have lost touch with friends or peers. Group therapy has become a very useful source of inspiration and emotional support among young people. Counselling for couples or families can improve the stability of the family environment and assist loved ones in understanding the problem. Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication therapy may be needed for people who have co-occurring diagnoses of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other psychiatric illnesses. If drug or alcohol misuse is a contributing factor, the person may require medical detox followed by specialised treatment for the addiction,” adds Dr Nirvan.
HELP AT HAND
* Accept your addiction. Stay positive
* Restrict your play time to 30 minutes. Use a time-tracking app to keep a track of how much time you spend in gaming
* Ask for help, talk to friends, parents to help restrict daily limitation
* Engage in a hobby or pastime to distract