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Almost 1 in 10 Young Video Game Users ‘Addicted’

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A growing number of young video game players, 8.5 percent, exhibit signs of addiction to gaming a new study has found.

The study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University is the first to document the prevalence of video game addiction using a nationally representative sample of children and adolescents. The study reveals the gaming interferes with school performance, disrupts interaction with family and friends and poses health problems.

“What’s most concerning to me is really the total percentage, just the vast number of kids that are having real problems in their lives because they play games, and they may not know how to stop it,” said developmental psychologist and assistant professor from Iowa State University Douglas A. Gentile. His study appears in the May 2009 edition of Psychological Science.

Experts don’t agree on whether “video game addiction” really exists. At present, it is not listed as a mental disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Stastistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“I think we’re at the same place now with video gaming as we were with alcoholism 40 years ago,” said Gentile, noting that decades of research finally showed that alcoholism is a disease.

The new study is based on data from a nationwide survey of 1,178 American children and teens, aged 8 to 18, conducted by Harris Interactive. The surveys were conducted from January 2007 and involved approximately 100 children as each age represented in the sample.

Children completed an online questionnaire using several scales to assess their video gaming habits. They were asked questions such as “Have you ever played [video games] as a way of escaping from problems or bad feelings?” “Have you ever lied to family and friends about how much you play [video games]?”

To measure pathological gaming in kids, Gentile adapted criteria used to diagnose pathological gambling. Gamers were classified as pathological if they exhibited at least six of the 11 criteria.

Pathological gamers played more frequently and for more time, received worse grades and were more likely to report having trouble paying attention in school than non-pathological players. They also reported more health problems associated with playing video games, such as hand and wrist pain. The study also found that pathological gamers were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit-disorder, 25 percent of pathological gamers versus 11 percent of non-pathological players.. They were also more likely, 24 percent versus 12 percent, to report having been involved in physical fights in the past year.

“I think it does highlight that parents and kids do need to talk about game play and they do need to talk about rules,” said Cheryl K. Olson, co-director and co-founder of the Center for Mental Health and Media at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. However, she questioned the appropriateness of adapting questions used to assess problem gambling in adults. “It’s one thing for a child to fib to his mom about how long he’s played a video game,” Olson said. “It’s another thing to lie to your wife about gambling.”

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