Addiction experts say video games not an addiction

CHICAGO Sun Jun 24, 2007 7:55pm EDT

The Mario character in Nintendo video games waits for visitors at a booth being set up for 2007 International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 7, 2007. Doctors backed away on Sunday from a controversial proposal to designate video game addiction as a mental disorder akin to alcoholism, saying psychiatrists should study the issue more. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Mario character in Nintendo video games waits for visitors at a booth being set up for 2007 International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 7, 2007. Doctors backed away on Sunday from a controversial proposal to designate video game addiction as a mental disorder akin to alcoholism, saying psychiatrists should study the issue more.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Doctors backed away on Sunday from a controversial proposal to designate video game addiction as a mental disorder akin to alcoholism, saying psychiatrists should study the issue more.

Addiction experts also strongly opposed the idea at a debate at the American Medical Association's annual meeting.

They said more study is needed before excessive use of video and online games -- a problem that affects about 10 percent of players -- could be considered a mental illness.

"There is nothing here to suggest that this is a complex physiological disease state akin to alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders, and it doesn't get to have the word addiction attached to it," said Dr. Stuart Gitlow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

A committee of the influential physicians' group had proposed video game addiction be listed as a mental disorder in the American Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide used by the American Psychiatric Association in diagnosing mental illness.

Such a move would ease the path for insurance coverage of video game addiction.

Even before debate on the subject began, the committee that made the proposal backed away from its position, and instead recommended that the American Psychiatric Association consider the change when it revises its next diagnostic manual in 5 years.

The psychiatrist group has said if the science warrants, it could be considered for inclusion in the next diagnostic manual, which will be published in 2012.

While occasional use of video games is harmless and may even help with some disorders like autism, doctors said in extreme cases it can interfere with day-to-day necessities like working, showering or even eating.

"Working with this problem is no different than working with alcoholic patients. The same denial, the same rationalization, the same inability to give it up," Dr. Thomas Allen of the Osler Medical Center in Towson, Maryland.

Dr. Louis Kraus of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and a psychiatrist at Rush University Medical Center, said it is not yet clear whether video games are addictive.

"It's not necessarily a cause-and-effect type issue. There may be certain kids who have a compulsive component to what they are doing," he said in an interview.

But addictive or not, too much time spent playing video games takes away from other important activities.

"The more time kids spend on video games, the less time they will have socializing, the less time they will have with their families, the less time they will have exercising," Kraus said.

"They can make up academic deficits, but they can't make up the social ones," he said.

The AMA committee will consider the testimony and make its final recommendation to the AMA's 555 voting delegates, who will vote on the matter later this week.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the $30 billion global video game industry, said more research is needed before video game addiction should be categorized as a mental disorder.

(Additional reporting by Scott Hillis in San Francisco)

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