The American Medical Association decided this week not to press ahead with a recommendation to the American Psychiatric Association that video game addiction be labelled as a formal mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The association also decided against urging parents to limit children to a total of two hours per day of playing video games, watching television and surfing the Internet.
The LA Times reports on the results of deliberations over a controversial AMA proposal that might have led to excessive playing of video games being labelled a formal psychiatric disorder akin to pathological gambling.
The newspaper quoted from Maressa Hecht Orzack, director of the computer-addiction studies center at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, who said the word choice was irrelevant:
“The fact is, it’s a behavior that’s out of control,” Orzack said, noting that some of her patients have trouble with school, work and their relationships because of their game-playing habits. “Whether you call it addiction, overuse or excessive use, it’s the same thing. It’s a condition that interferes with a person’s mental health.”
Dr Orzack, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating computer addiction, has a strong vested interest in hyping internet addiction as well as video game addiction, and for years she has managed to appear with a snappy quote in a huge number of press stories on the topic (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here; and even in the Psychiatric Times, where she recounts her own personal struggle with computer game addiction).
What I personally find surprising in this quote, though, is that Dr Orzack finally makes explicit that she really doesn’t care what it’s called — apparently, she views addiction, overuse, and excessive use as all being the same thing. Many of those who score popular press brownie points by prognosticating about internet addiction neglect to make it so explicit when they gloss over the differences between bona fide addiction, on the one hand, and overuse or excessive use, on the other.
When a so-called expert in the field — a real live clinical psychologist, no less — happily throws the actual definition of addiction out the window and lumps it in with ‘overuse’, I believe there’s almost no ground left for an intelligent discussion or debate about the actual experience of those so affected.
Don’t get me wrong: I believe there is such a thing as using the internet too much. And I’m pretty sure I’m not merely one of those in the online mental health field who likes to rant against the idea of internet addiction because his real life plays second fiddle to his online life. No, it’s just that I believe in paying attention to what words actually mean, and not papering over differences between significantly distinct concepts just to suit an agenda. That’s simply intellectually lazy — woolly thinking. It does no one any good in this debate — certainly not those individuals who perhaps really do find themselves struggling with their own internet use or video game use and wind up finding their experiences being conflated with those of people struggling with physiological addiction to nicotine or cocaine or other addictive substances.
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