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WHO makes 'gaming disorder' diagnosis official

Final version of World Health Organization's 11th International Compendium of Diseases includes gaming addiction for the first time

The World Health Organization has laid the groundwork for doctors to treat gaming addiction as a disease. The group yesterday announced that its 11th International Classification of Diseases has been finalized and includes the addition of gaming to its section on addictive disorders.

The WHO released a draft of the ICD-11 including the gaming disorder diagnosis months ago. Despite some pushback and criticism--the Entertainment Software Association said the move "recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder"--the gaming disorder entry remains in the ICD-11.

The ICD is a database of about 55,000 medical issues ranging from abrasions to zoonotic viral diseases. It is used for clinical care as well as research, and receives major revisions rarely; the 10th ICD was formally approved in 1990.

The ICD-11 says a gaming disorder is marked by a pattern of gaming where the player loses control over how, when, or how long they play, where they prioritize gaming over other interests and daily activities, and where they continue to game despite negative consequences.

"The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning," the ICD-11 states.

It suggests such a pattern typically would need to be present for at least a year to merit the diagnosis, although in cases where symptoms are severe it could be made sooner.

The ICD-11 also includes a 'hazardous gaming' entry, which describes a pattern that "increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the individual or to others around this individual. The increased risk may be from the frequency of gaming, from the amount of time spent on these activities, from the neglect of other activities and priorities, from risky behaviours associated with gaming or its context, from the adverse consequences of gaming, or from the combination of these. The pattern of gaming is often persists in spite of awareness of increased risk of harm to the individual or to others."

In both instances, the gaming disorder can be related to offline games as well as online titles.

While the ICD-11 won't be formally adopted by the WHO's 194 member nations until next year, yesterday's announcement of the ICD-11 final version was intended to give them time to prepare for the implementation of its changes. Even after that adoption, the IDC-11 won't actually take effect until January 1 of 2022, and countries can take years implementing those changes into their health care systems. (While the 10th ICD was approved in 1990, the US only moved to a variant of the ICD-10 in 2015.)

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