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WHO Details What Separates Gaming From Addictive Gaming as Disorder Closes on Recognition

The World Health Organization may soon recognize “gaming disorder” as an addictive disease, according to an official news release.

The addition comes with the new release of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Other additions include a chapter on sexual health topics, such as “gender incongruence” and a chapter on traditional medicine, which is used globally but has never been classified until now.

The ICD identifies health patterns and statistics across the globe, providing a common code for over 55,000 injuries and diseases. WHO general director, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explained the significance of the classification in the news release.

“The ICD is a product that WHO is truly proud of,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “It enables us to understand so much about what makes people get sick and die, and to take action to prevent suffering and save lives.”

The inclusion of gaming disorder has received a number of media inquiries, according to Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the director of the WHO’s Department for Mental Health and Substance Use.

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“Let me remind the audience that gambling disorder was already there in [the current ICD], but gaming disorder is a new entrant,” Saxena said at the press briefing on Monday, held in Geneva.

“WHO has been working in this area and reviewing the evidence for the last several years, so it’s not a sudden decision,” Dr. Saxena emphasized. “This decision has been there for some time based on full review of global evidence as well as consultation with experts from all regions of the world, recognizing that such a disorder exists and the disorder has a public health significance, and countries need to start planning for prevention and treatment.”

Saxena finished the explanation of the new disorder by noting that everyone who “engages in gaming” does not have gaming disorder, but it is a “small minority” that healthcare providers need to be aware of.

The symptoms of gaming disorder as defined by the ICD give a guideline of how serious the behavior needs to be to be classified as a “gaming disorder.”

First, the disorder consists of recurrent and consistent gaming behavior in which the subject shows “impaired control” with consideration to the factors of “onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, [and] context.”

So from the sound of it, a “Fortnite” binge of several hours with friends every once in a while isn’t too concerning, unless it is reaching a disturbing frequency or the intensity of play is so high that the subject is neglecting other responsibilities. The definition further notes that “increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities” is the next symptom.

Gaming disorder is further classified as an addictive disease so intense that the subject continues the behavior pattern in spite of negative consequences, such as impairment in social relationships, school, work, or if it impacts other “important areas of functioning” — likely referring to basic needs such as eating, sleeping, and hygiene.

With gaming now more accessible than ever, on mobile devices and with an abundance of popular free-to-play games available, it’s not too surprising that gaming addiction is on the rise. For a diagnosis of gaming disorder, the behaviors usually must be observed over a period of 12 months unless the symptoms are more apparent and severe enough to meet the diagnostic requirement.

The WHO will present the new ICD at the World Health Assembly in May 2019. If the ICD is adopted by the member states of the WHO, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Though it was noted by Dr. Robert Jakob, team lead of classifications, terminologies and standards during the Q&A session of the press briefing that “in principle [countries] can start implementing [the new ICD] now.”

The 2022 date is the day by which official reporting must begin to the WHO regarding the implementation, though countries can choose to implement sooner, according to Dr. Jakob.

Variety reached out to WHO communications officer Christian Lindmeier, who noted that the WHO expects the new ICD to pass in May 2019, and this initial release is so that member states can “make comments on this implementation process” before 2019.

In regards to the possibility of gaming disorder treatment being covered by healthcare providers, Lindmeier stated: “Any implementation would always be done following national sovereignty, but it is a possibility, that health insurance providers could cover the treatment, as they do with other mental disorders.”

During the Q&A session of the press briefing, Dr. Saxena explained the possibility of treatment options and possibility of coverage for the disorder, noting that the new ICD is the “first step” in the process.

“[Research suggests that] there are some prevention interventions that can be done,” Dr. Saxena said. ” [Possible treatment options] are common with other interventions, for example, for substance use disorders, by which I mean alcohol and drug dependence, because [gaming disorder] is also a kind of dependence for which similar interventions, psychological as well as social, might be useful.”

Dr. Saxena further explained that there is no evidence for effective pharmacological treatment of gaming disorder as of now, but the inclusion of the disorder in the ICD could facilitate research in all types of treatment and preventive methods.

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