The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognizes game addiction as a mental disorder, named Internet Gaming Disorder, with the characteristic signs of poor game control; prioritizing gaming over other hobbies and daily activities, and continuing to increase the amount of time spent playing games despite the negative effects occurring.

Overview Of Internet Gaming Disorder

The video game market can be considered a billion-dollar industry. According to statistics, more than 2 billion people were playing games in the world in 2020; on average, each person played for about 6 hours/week. Unfortunately, for some people, their love of gaming can escalate into an addictive disorder that can seriously impact their lives.

In 2018, the WHO officially recognized game addiction as a mental disorder. Accordingly, Internet gaming disorder, also known as game addiction, is defined as a form of gaming behavior characterized by poor game control; prioritizing gaming over other hobbies and daily activities, and continuing to increase the amount of time spent playing games despite the negative effects occurring.

Like with substance-related disorders, game addicts constantly sit in front of the computer (or phone) and participate in games while neglecting other activities. They often spend 8 - 10 hours a day or more on gaming activities and can even play games for long periods without eating and/or sleeping. Daily obligations, such as schoolwork, work, or housework, are overlooked.

When Does Gaming Become a Mental Health Problem?

Not everyone who spends much time playing games has an Internet gaming disorder. A person can spend many hours playing games, but then they can stop without much difficulty; this case is not considered an Internet gaming disorder. Conversely, a person can become addicted to video games if they cannot stop playing, even though they know they should. They may know that gaming is causing them to neglect family, friends, work, and study, yet they continue to maintain this behavior.

Besides, the fact that individuals "need" to play games to feel happy and will feel extremely miserable when not playing is also considered one of the signs of Internet gaming disorder. When prevented from playing games or starting to "withdraw" from games, individuals may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia, aggression, and "craving" to play games again. This case is similar to alcoholism or drug abuse because games can also trigger the release of "happy hormones" in the brain.

WARNING: The symptoms listed are for reference only. If you suspect that you have an Internet gaming disorder, see a psychologist for an accurate diagnosis.

Signs And Symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) states that those with Internet Gaming Disorder frequently engage in games repeatedly, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. Accordingly, a person diagnosed with Internet gaming disorder needs to have at least 5 of the 9 symptoms below, lasting for about 12 months:

1. Preoccupation with Internet games (such as thinking about previous gaming activity or anticipating playing the next game); gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life;

2. Withdrawal symptoms when Internet gaming is taken away (such as irritability, anxiety, or sadness), but there are no physical signs of pharmacological withdrawal (such as drug withdrawal);

3. The need to engage more in Internet games;

4. Unsuccessful endeavors to control participation in Internet games;

5. Reduced or loss of interest in previous hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exemption of, Internet games;

6. Continuing to intensely play Internet games in spite of knowledge of psychosocial issues;

7. Having lied to family members, therapists, or others with respect to the amount of Internet gaming;

8. Playing games to escape or relieve a negative disposition;

9. Having jeopardized or lost a critical relationship, work, educational, or career opportunity since participating in Internet gaming.

Internet gaming disorder can be serious or not, depending on the degree of disruption of daily activities. Individuals with milder Internet gaming disorders may exhibit fewer symptoms and less disruption of their lives. On the contrary, those with severe Internet gaming disorders will have more hours spent on computers/phones, and their relationships, career opportunities, or education will be more seriously affected.

WARNING: The symptoms listed are for reference only. If you suspect that you have Internet gaming disorder, see a psychologist for an accurate diagnosis.

Psychosocial Issues Related to Internet Gaming Disorder

Not only have physical health problems (such as insomnia, obesity, or diabetes), but people with Internet gaming disorder also have poorer mental health. Studies have shown evidence that the rate of suicidal thoughts among game addicts is high, especially among teenagers.

Some mental disorders related to Internet gaming disorders include:

• Anxiety disorder: People with this disorder often worry, panic, or fear to the point of obsession. They have excessive reactions to things and events that stimulate that anxiety, and they cannot control their reactions in many cases. This happens over a long period of time and affects their daily functions.

• Depression: People with this disorder have symptoms that include persistent sadness and loss of interest in life over long periods. Depression makes it possible for them to have difficulty with daily activities, and sometimes, they may feel that life is not worth living.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People with this disorder show symptoms of inattention (such as being easily distracted when studying) and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity (such as being excessively active in inappropriate situations or frequently bothering others). These symptoms make them susceptible to emotional problems and impaired social functioning.

• Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with this disorder often have obsessions. To escape those thoughts, they feel driven to repeat compulsive behaviors (such as washing/cleaning their hands, checking everything, counting silently in their head, and so on). These behaviors can significantly interfere with the person's daily activities and social interactions.

In addition, Internet gaming disorder can also lead to serious social consequences. Long-term social isolation and technology use due to gaming cause people with Internet gaming disorder to have poor communication skills and easily have problems with friends or people around them. They are also at risk of lower academic and/or career achievement than others.

In particular, people addicted to the action game genre will easily become aggressive and/or tend to resolve conflicts with violence. Playing violent games can make them resistant to aggressive behavior, giving them the false belief that only violence can solve problems.

Internet Gaming Disorder Treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common treatments for Internet gaming disorder. Psychologists will help individuals control stimuli, learn proper adapting reactions, develop self-monitoring strategies, and rebuild cognition and critical thinking related to Internet gaming disorder. CBT therapy serves as a short-term measure to reduce symptoms of Internet gaming disorder and depressive symptoms caused by Internet gaming disorder.


PIPATIC Intervention Program

PIPATIC is an individualized psychotherapy program that is available for people aged 12 to 18 years who have Internet gaming disorder. PIPATIC includes 6 modules: psychoeducational, treatment as usual, intra-personal, interpersonal, family intervention, and development of a new lifestyle. This program lasts 6 months with sessions ranging from 22 - 45 minutes per week, led by a clinical psychologist with exercises aimed at reducing symptoms of gaming addiction and improving health. In particular, the PIPATIC program requires cooperation from families during the treatment process. This method has been proven by many studies to be significantly effective, however, it is only for adolescents.

Support from Family, Friends, and Others Around

People with Internet gaming disorder often face many difficulties, especially when starting to "recover from addiction," so they need support from those around them. Family or friends can help by listening and talking calmly and positively while helping them find alternative entertainment and other enjoyable yet healthier activities. For parents whose children are addicted to games, it is necessary to limit punishment, but be patient and encourage them to help children gradually reduce unhealthy behaviors. Besides, parents can help their children build a scientific and appropriate schedule for eating, playing, and resting; limit children's exposure to Internet gaming at a young age; increase sports activities in the family to replace gaming behavior, etc.

If you feel you are having symptoms of Internet gaming disorder, go to a medical facility for a timely examination and diagnosis, or contact the Vietnam - France Psychology Institute via Hotline: 0979.158.463 for specific advice. Early intervention is key to improving health and quality of life.


[1] Cyber Psychology: Internet/Gaming addiction.

[2] Tâm bệnh học. Đặng Hoàng Minh (Chủ biên).

[3] Video game disorder and mental wellbeing among university students: a cross-sectional study.

[4] Symptoms, Mechanisms, and Treatments of Video Game Addiction.

[5] 3 Ways to Help Someone With a Video Game Addiction.

[6] Video Game Addiction and Violence: Is There A Connection?.



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