What is an addiction exactly?
While sources such as Wikipedia define addiction as "a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences", this description, while useful enough when talking about drug or alcohol addiction, can become more difficult to apply to problem behaviours such as gambling. With gambling addiction, for example, we usually talk about a persistent need to gamble to the point of interfering with normal pastimes such as work or school, which can damage the gambler financially, undermine mental health, and lead to permanent shattering of family and social relationships. In that respect, we can call it an addiction even though there are no external signs that a gambling addiction exists at all and certainly no medical tests that can be use to diagnosis this kind of problem behavior. The same difficulty applies to shopping addiction, sexual addiction, or any of the other behavioural addictions currently included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
Which brings us to the question of video games....
Certainly there is no disputing the fact that millions of young people around the world devote countless hours to playing video games. Within the past two decades, video game culture has evolved along Internet culture to create entire social networks allowing gamers to immerse themselves in ways that have never been possible before. Along with movies, television, music, and YouTube videos, news stories about the negative aspects of video game playing has sparked a backlash among parents' groups. As well, many researchers have weighed in with studies showing the impact of video gaming on problem behaviours in adolescents. Stereotypes have also sprung up depicting gamers as physically unfit "nerds" with few social skills though actual evidence to back up these stereotypes is often lacking.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.