In the last ten years, clinicians and researchers have noted that some individuals experience a compulsion to use the Internet or play computer games at the expense of other responsibilities. These individuals may spend 40 or more hours each week engaged in nonessential Internet usage or gaming. There remains some debate as to whether Internet addiction is a mental health issue in itself, or merely a symptom of another mental health problem. MRI scans, however, have revealed that both drug addiction and computer game addiction generate activity in similar areas of the brain (Ko, 2009).
A clinical trial is underway in Germany to test the effectiveness of a specific form of cognitive behavioral therapy in treating addiction to the Internet and computer games. Organizers of the trial are recruiting males aged 17 to 45 years with a diagnosis of Internet or computer game addiction. This study, which is currently recruiting participants at sites in Austria and Germany, will employ a “manualized” treatment approach.
Behavioral therapy sessions and interventions will follow a script, with the aim of eliminating variation between therapists. An earlier trial of Celexa (escitalopram) for Internet addiction demonstrated significant effectiveness, but similar studies have shown mixed results (Dell’Osso et al., 2008). The German research team hopes to provide evidence that therapy alone can be effective in the relief of behavioral addictions.
Until recently, the idea of a behavioral addiction was not taken seriously in the therapeutic community. Repetitive or compulsive behaviors were seen as offshoots of obsessive compulsion. Another theory suggests that obsessive gaming or Internet usage may be a way for depressed or anxious individuals to escape their negative mood states (Hussain, 2009). The dynamics of the stimuli itself—whether a game or simply the Internet in general—have not been extensively studied. Treatments for these forms of addiction are still in their infancy and rely mainly on analogies between game addiction and other addictive behaviors, such as gambling.
On the other hand, King et al. (2010) has suggested that viewing problem gaming through the lens of problem gambling is not effective. The researchers argue that games and the Internet have distinctly interactive properties that warrant study in isolation. In particular, the social element of multiplayer games like World of Warcraft renders useless the analogy between problem gambling and gaming addiction.
Partly in response to the surge in diagnoses of gaming and Internet addictions, the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual will include a new section on behavior addiction (Holden, 2010). Internet addiction will be among the compulsive behavioral issues included under this new definition. As with most addictions, a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychotropic medications will likely be the recommended course of treatment.
The German study is expected to conclude in October 2014. The results will offer new insights into the still emerging field of behavioral addiction treatment. In addition, the results may highlight the ways in which Internet and game addiction are unique mental health issues, demanding unique treatment approaches.
- Effects of a Manualized Short-term Treatment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction – Full Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov. (n.d.). Home – ClinicalTrials.gov. Retrieved from http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/study/NCT01434589?cond=%22Behavior%2C+Addictive%22&rank=1
- Holden, C. (2010). Behavioral addictions debut in proposed DSM-V. Science, 327(5968), 935.
- Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. (2009). The attitudes, feelings, and experiences of online gamers: a qualitative analysis. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12(6), 747-753.
- King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Cognitive behavioural therapy for problematic video game players: Conceptual considerations and practice issues. Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitation, 3, 261-273.
- Ko, C., Liu, G., Hsiao, S., Yen, J., Yang, M., Lin, W., et al. (2009). Brain activities associated with gaming urge of online gaming addiction. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43(7), 739-747.
© Copyright 2011 by James Pendleton. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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