Redefining Addiction to Recognize Compulsive Video Gaming as a Disorder
Recognizing compulsive video gaming as a disorder is critical for developing corresponding treatment and prevention programs while reinforcing the various therapeutic, educational, and social benefits associated with gaming. Gaming addiction—like many other compulsive behaviors—is not currently recognized as a disorder, although the APA did include “Internet Gaming Disorder” in the DSM-V as a potential condition. One argument against redefining addiction to include criteria for compulsive behaviors is that it becomes too inclusive; however, this only occurs upon mistakenly conflating behaviors and delivery mechanisms.
Whereas psychoactive, exogenous substances directly elicit addictive physiological changes, compulsive behaviors indirectly elicit addictive psychological effects through physical changes in endogenous neurochemistry. For example, while smokers addicted to e-cigarettes are actually addicted to nicotine, compulsive gamers find video games differentially addicting because of how they variably affect them psychologically: one player may crave the satisfaction from solving puzzles, another the adrenaline from an intense battle scene, another the feelings of accomplishment and boosts to self-esteem derived from completing a mission, and another the online social interactions that are otherwise lacking from their non-virtual life. Neurochemical imbalances may be both a cause and a consequence of gaming addiction, suggesting that surrogate activities and/or psychoactive substances may prove therapeutic.