DSM-V Recognition of IGD Highlights the Necessity of Concurrent Treatment with Depression and Anxiety

Video games are a huge staple of modern culture, and one of the primary ways that people relax and take a temporary break from the stresses of their daily lives. But with the recent recognition of Internet Gaming Disorder by the DSM-V and its connection with depression and anxiety, the importance of recognizing the potentially vicious cycle of video game addiction and mental health issues is becoming more apparent. If you know someone struggling with a dependency, addressing the depression and anxiety intertwined with their addiction is necessary to treat their compulsion and replace it with adaptive behaviors.

Day in and day out, we get swept up in our routine of work, and according to recent data, it’s taking its toll: Americans are more stressed than ever. It’s no surprise, then, that escapism is one of the most common ways we find reprieve from our daily stresses, whether it’s our favorite show, the complex stories painted by a book series, or the digital personas that we take control of in video games. Video games comprise one of the biggest entertainment markets in the world, generating billions of dollars each year and appealing to people all across the age spectrum.

But with this increase in popularity, the link between video game addiction and mental health challenges like depression and anxiety is becoming more apparent. Although researchers have noted the connection between internet use, depression, and anxiety for years, only recently has the focus shifted specifically to video games, a move that has peaked with the recent discussion of Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V).

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The Connection Between IGD and Depression/Anxiety


The inclusion of IGD in the DSM-V doesn’t mean that it’s recognized as an official disorder. It is listed under the category of “Condition for Further Study,” one reserved for potential disorders that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has requested to be researched more thoroughly to determine if it should be classified as such.

Yet whether it’s considered to be an “official” disorder or not shouldn’t undermine the fact that people are struggling with an unhealthy relationship to video games. Although data on adults is limited, one study found that one in ten youth between the ages of eight to 18 is addicted—a number that is cause for concern, given the fact that video game addiction often occurs alongside mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. In fact, many of the symptoms that manifest in people with anxiety and depression also appear in people struggling with IGD, including:

  • Loneliness
  • Insomnia
  • Impulsivity
  • Increased likelihood of attempting suicide
  • A loss of interest in other life activities

Using video games to have some fun, even in the form of escapism, isn’t a problem in itself. But when it turns into a compulsion that feeds into underlying mental health challenges, it needs to be addressed as one. Continued research will teach us more about IGD and the possibility of various subtypes, but for now, regardless of its classification, it’s a significant public health problem. With an estimated 3 million Americans within the age range of eight and 18 struggling with video game addiction, this is a dependency that requires careful analysis and treatment just like any other mental health challenge—especially in the case of concurrent disorders. And if it’s a problem that you think someone close to you is living with, it’s essential that you show them compassion and help them realize that they are struggling with an addiction. Through this understanding, you can encourage them to seek treatment to unearth the causes of their struggle and the effect that it’s having on their life.

The Potentially Vicious Cycle of Video Game Addiction and Mental Health Issues


One of the strongest links to online gaming addiction is “negative escapism,” which refers to using games as a way to distract yourself from unpleasant situations in your life. The finding highlights the large role that escapism plays in video game addiction, as well as the fact that video games can be used like drugs by people living with mental health challenges like depression and anxiety to cope with their struggles.

“Individuals who play games to get away from their lives or to pre­tend to be other peo­ple seem to be those most at-risk for becom­ing part of a vicious cycle,” says Joe Hilgard, who researched the risk factors of pathological video game use. “These gamers avoid their prob­lems by play­ing games, which in turn inter­fer­es with their lives because they’re so busy play­ing games.”

Using video games to escape from negative emotions can seem like the perfect solution if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, and given the fact that people with IGD have “significantly more social, financial, marital, family, and/or professional difficulties” than those without the disorder, this is completely understandable.

Research also shows that video games, like other process addictions, can lead to the release of dopamine, the chemical in your brain most tightly connected to reward, into the circuits of your brain involved with pleasure. Dopamine levels have been linked to depression, as well as anxiety and emotional processing. With such an easy way to escape and provide yourself with the pleasure and reward that life doesn’t seem to be offering, video games can seem like the perfect way for people struggling with anxiety and depression to finally find some peace of mind.

It’s also important to know that IGD can include offline games, a fact that is confusing given the name of the disorder. Of course, as a recent focus in the world of mental health, this confusion is common—just as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was renamed from multiple personality disorder, IGD might undergo changes in the future as we learn more about it.

Whether someone’s playing an MMORPG to fill the gaps in their social life or an arcade shooter to take their mind off of a stressful relationship problem, they’re tapping into a very primitive part of their brain in the same way that things like food and sex do. And this is the likely reason that people with mental health challenges can fall so easily into video game addiction, continuously telling themselves “just one more round,” only to find themselves repeating the same phrase hours later.

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Addressing the Anxiety and Depression Intertwined with IGD


Regardless of whether anxiety or depression (or both) is linked to someone’s video game addiction, recognizing that it’s negatively impacting the life of someone you care about is important—as is helping them recognize and understand both their unique challenges and how they can overcome them with proper, professional treatment.

Once they’ve connected with the right treatment center, they will have time to focus their energy on addressing the mental health challenges that lie at the root of their addiction and channel these urges in other ways. If their “why” is escapism, they’ll need to focus on resolving the things in their life that they’re trying to escape. If it’s a need for socialization due to something like social anxiety, for instance, they can find more adaptive ways to socialize, even using online resources at first if that’s a more comfortable avenue for them. And throughout this process, you can be by their side and act as a pillar of support, helping them address and resolve the driving forces behind their dependency.

If you think that someone close to you might be struggling with depression and anxiety (along with concurrent IGD), there are people out there who can help them take a healthier approach to dealing with their struggles, and a residential treatment program is one place where they can connect with these people and learn necessary coping skills. It might not be as recognized as other disorders and addictions, but that shouldn’t undermine its severity and potential to feed into other mental illnesses, and it definitely shouldn’t prevent people from acknowledging the negative impact that it’s having on their life and striving to overcome it.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive rehabilitation programs for people struggling with anxiety and depression alongside co-occurring process addictions like internet gaming disorder. Contact us today to learn how you or your loved one can learn the root of a video game addiction and address the anxiety/depression at the heart of the addiction.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Pawel Kadysz