Research into online addictions has grown considerably over the last two decades and much of it has concentrated on problematic gaming, particularly MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games). In the latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) (also commonly referred in the literature as problematic gaming and gaming addiction) was included in Section 3 (‘Emerging Measures and Models’) as a promising area that needed future research before being included in the main section of future editions of the DSM.
The DSM-5 proposed nine criteria for IGD (of which five or more need to be endorsed over the period of 12 months and result in clinically significant impairment to be diagnosed as experiencing IGD). More specifically the criteria include (1) preoccupation with games; (2) withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away; (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in gaming, (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in gaming; (5) loss of interest in hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, gaming; (6) continued excessive use of games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems; (7) deception of family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of gaming; (8) use of gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood; and (9) loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in games.
There is no agreement on the prevalence of IGD as the vast majority of studies have surveyed non-representative self-selected samples using over 20 different screening instruments. A review of problematic gaming prevalence studies that I published with Orsi Király, Halley Pontes, and Zsolt Demetrovics (in the 2015 book Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise) reported a large variation in the prevalence rates (from 0.2% up to 34%). However, we noted that there were many factors that could have accounted for the wide variation in prevalence rates including the type of gaming examined (i.e., some studies just examined online gaming, whereas others examined console gaming or a mixture of both), sample size, participants’ age range, participant type (i.e., some surveyed the general population while others assessed gamers only), and instruments used to assess gaming.
There have been a handful of studies that have reported the prevalence of IGD using nationally representative samples. The prevalence rates reported were 8.5% of American youth aged 8–18 years, 1.2% of German adolescents aged 13-18 years, 5.5% among Dutch adolescents aged 13-20, and 5.4% among Dutch adults, 4.3% of Hungarian adolescents aged 15-16 years, 1.4% of Norwegian gamers, and 1.6% of European youth from seven countries aged 14-17 years.
There are now over 20 different screening instruments including a number of new ones specifically incorporating the IGD criteria (including a number that I have co-developed with Halley Pontes). The multiplicity of problematic gaming screens remains a key challenge in the field and partially reflects the lack of consensus in terms of the assessment of the phenomenon. A comprehensive 2013 review that I published with Daniel King and others in Clinical Psychology Review examined the criteria of 18 problematic gaming screens. The 18 screens had been utilized in 63 quantitative studies (N=58,415 participants). The main weaknesses identified were (i) inconsistency of core addiction indicators across studies, (ii) a general lack of any temporal dimension, (iii) inconsistent cutoff scores relating to clinical status, (iv) poor and/or inadequate inter-rater reliability and predictive validity, and (v) inconsistent and/or untested dimensionality. We also questioned the appropriateness of certain screens for certain settings, because those used in clinical practice may require a different emphasis than those used in epidemiological, experimental, or neurobiological research settings.
Research into IGD is needed from clinical, epidemiological, and neurobiological aspects of IGD. There has been an increasing number of neurobiological studies on IGD and a 2014 meta-analysis by Dr. Y. Meng and colleagues in Addiction Biology of 10 neuroimaging studies investigating the functional brain response to cognitive tasks from IGD using quantitative effect size signed differential mapping meta-analytic methods. found reliable clusters of abnormal activation in IGD within the regions comprising the bilateral medial frontal gyrus/cingulate gyrus, the left middle temporal gyrus and fusiform gyrus when compared to healthy controls. The same review also found that greater amounts of time spent per week playing was associated with hyper-activity in the left medial frontal gyrus and the right cingulate gyrus. Despite the useful findings reported, one of the major limitations of this meta-analysis was that 90% of the studies reviewed were conducted in Asian countries or regions, which might be problematic since prevalence rates of IGD in these populations are usually inflated compared to prevalence rates reported in Western countries. Furthermore, a systematic review of neuroimaging studies examining Internet addiction (IA) and IGD by Daria Kuss and myself in the journal Brain Sciences concluded that:
“These studies provide compelling evidence for the similarities between different types of addictions, notably substance-related addictions and Internet and gaming addiction, on a variety of levels. On the molecular level, Internet addiction is characterized by an overall reward deficiency that entails decreased dopaminergic activity. On the level of neural circuitry, Internet and gaming addiction lead to neuroadaptation and structural changes that occur as a consequence of prolonged increased activity in brain areas associated with addiction. On a behavioral level, Internet and gaming addicts appear to be constricted with regards to their cognitive functioning in various domains”
Over the last decade, a number of studies have investigated the association between IGD (and its derivatives) and various personality and comorbidity factors. Our recent review in the book Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise summarized the research examining the relationship between personality traits and IGD. Empirical studies have shown IGD to be associated with (i) neuroticism, (ii) aggression and hostility, (iii) avoidant and schizoid tendencies, loneliness and introversion, (iv) social inhibition, (v) boredom inclination, (vi) sensation-seeking, (vii) diminished agreeableness, (viii) diminished self-control and narcissistic personality traits, (ix) low self-esteem, (x) state and trait anxiety, and (xi) low emotional intelligence. However, we noted that it was difficult to assess the aetiological significance of such associations because these personality factors are not unique to problematic gaming. Our review also reported that IGD had been associated with various comorbid disorders, including (i) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, (ii) symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depression, and social phobia, and (iii) various psychosomatic symptoms.
According to a 2013 editorial in the journal Addiction, Nancy Petry and Charles O’Brien (2013), IGD will not be included as a separate mental disorder in future editions of the DSM until the (i) defining features of IGD have been identified, (ii) reliability and validity of specific IGD criteria have been obtained cross-culturally, (iii) prevalence rates have been determined in representative epidemiological samples across the world, and (iv) aetiology and associated biological features have been evaluated.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Please note: Additional input from Daria Kuss and Halley Pontes
Gentile, D. (2009). Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8–18: A national study. Psychological Science, 20(5), 594-602. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02340.x
Griffiths, M. D., King, D. L., & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4. doi: 10.2217/npy.13.82
Griffiths, M. D., Király, O., Pontes, H. M., & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). An overview of problematic gaming. In E. Aboujaoude & V. Starcevic (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp. 27-45). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/med/9780199380183.003.0002
Griffiths, M. D., & Pontes, H. M. (2014). Internet Addiction Disorder and Internet Gaming Disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, 5(4), e124. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124
Griffiths, M. D., & Szabo, A. (2014). Is excessive online usage a function of medium or activity? An empirical pilot study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(1), 74-77. doi: 10.1556/JBA.2.2013.016
King, D. L., Haagsma, M. C., Delfabbro, P. H., Gradisar, M. S. & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(3), 331-342. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2013.01.002
Király, O., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Internet Gaming Disorder and the DSM-5: Conceptualization, debates, and controversies. Current Addiction Reports, 2(3), 254-262. doi: 10.1007/s40429-015-0066-7
Király, O., Griffiths, M. D., Urbán, R., Farkas, J., Kökönyei, G., Elekes, Z., Tamás, D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic internet use and problematic online gaming are not the same: Findings from a large nationally representative adolescent sample. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17(12), 749-754. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2014.0475
Király, O., Sleczka, P., Pontes, H. M., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). Validation of the ten-item Internet Gaming Disorder Test (IGDT-10) and evaluation of the nine DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder criteria. Addictive Behaviors. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.11.005
Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Internet addiction in psychotherapy. London: Palgrave.
Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2(3), 347-374. doi: 10.3390/brainsci2030347
Kuss, D. J., Griffiths, M. D., Karila, L., & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20(25), 4026-4052. doi: 10.2174/13816128113199990617
Lemmens, J. S., Valkenburg, P. M., & Gentile, D.A. (2015). The Internet Gaming Disorder Scale. Psychological Assessment, 27(2), 567-582. doi: 10.1037/pas0000062
Meng, Y., Deng, W., Wang, H., Guo, W., & Li, T. (2014). The prefrontal dysfunction in individuals with Internet Gaming Disorder: A meta-analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies. Addiction Biology, 20(4), 799-808. doi: 10.1111/adb.12154
Müller, K. W., Janikian, M., Dreier, M., Wölfling, K., Beutel, M. E., Tzavara, C., Richardson, C., & Tsitsika, A. (2015). Regular gaming behavior and internet gaming disorder in European adolescents: results from a cross-national representative survey of prevalence, predictors, and psychopathological correlates. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 24(5), 565-574. doi: 10.1007/s00787-014-0611-2
Petry, N. M., & O’Brien, C. P. (2013). Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5. Addiction 108(7), 1186–1187. doi: 10.1111/add.12162
Pontes, H. M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). New concepts, old known issues: The DSM-5 and Internet Gaming Disorder and its assessment. In J. Bishop (Ed.), Psychological and Social Implications Surrounding Internet and Gaming Addiction (pp. 16-30). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8595-6.ch002
Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.006
Pontes, H. M., Szabo, A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25. doi: 10.1016/j.abrep.2015.03.002
Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.
Pontes, H. M., Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Clinical psychology of Internet addiction: a review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23. doi: 10.2147/NAN.S60982
Rehbein, F., Kliem, S., Baier, D., Mößle, T., & Petry, N. M. (2015). Prevalence of Internet Gaming Disorder in German adolescents: Diagnostic contribution of the nine DSM-5 criteria in a state-wide representative sample. Addiction, 110(5), 842–851. doi: 10.1111/add.12849
Thomas, N., & Martin, F. (2010). Video-arcade game, computer game and Internet activities of Australian students: Participation habits and prevalence of addiction. Australian Journal of Psychology. 62(2), 59-66. doi: 10.1080/00049530902748283
van Rooij, A. J., Schoenmakers, T. M., & van de Mheen, D. (2015). Clinical validation of the C-VAT 2.0 assessment tool for gaming disorder: A sensitivity analysis of the proposed DSM-5 criteria and the clinical characteristics of young patients with ‘video game addiction’. Addictive Behaviors. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.10.018
Wittek, C. T., Finserås, T. R., Pallesen, S., Mentzoni, R. A., Hanss, D., Griffiths, M. D., & Molde, H. (2015). Prevalence and predictors of video game addiction: A study based on a national representative sample of gamers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. doi: 10.1007/s11469-015-9592-8
Young, K.S. (1999). Internet addiction: Symptoms, evaluation and treatment. Innovations in clinical practice: A source book, (Vol. 17; pp. 19-31). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.