World Health Organization Officially Classifies Gaming Addiction as Mental Health Disorder

WHO insists gaming addiction is a diagnosable disease, but psychologists fear we are missing the root cause.
Jessica Miley

The World Health Organization (WHO) intermittently publishes the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codebook. This book aims to outline every possible known disease in the world. It is used by both medical professionals and insurance companies in their daily jobs. 

The 11th version of the book has just been made publicly available. This edition has a contentious new amendment under the addictions section of the book - gaming addiction. 

WHO adds new code classifying gaming addiction

The amendment was added last December, WHO has defined gaming addiction as “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” that takes over someone’s life. It says the behavior pattern needs to have 'sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.'

That can include ruining relationships, job prospects, or school performance. It adds this pattern should last 12 months but that time may be shorter if the symptoms are severe enough. The code is set in under 'Disorder due to addictive behaviors' such as drug abuse.


WHO has also proposed code for hazardous gaming, this is described as “gaming, either online or offline that appreciably increases the risk of harmful physical or mental health consequences to the individual or to others around this individual.” This code comes under the umbrella “Problems associated with health behaviors.” 

Despite WHO placing the codes in the book, there are critics who believe labeling an addictive gaming behavior in this way both stigmatizes gamers and might not address the true cause of the addiction amongst players.

Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University in Florida is wary of the WHO’s classification. Ferguson who specializes in examining the way gaming affects society, says we don’t have any real evidence that gaming addiction is a ‘real’ mental illness like schizophrenia or depression. 

Critics slam WHO for lack of research into addiction

Ferguson is part of a group of experts who are calling for more research into video game addiction before such classifications are made. The group has published a paper titled, 'A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: Let us err on the side of caution, in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 

The group warns about the dangers of misdiagnosis saying; "We agree that there are some people whose play of video games is related to life problems. We believe that understanding this population and the nature and severity of the problems they experience should be a focus area for future research. However, moving from research construct to formal disorder requires a much stronger evidence base than we currently have. The burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses."

The team was hoping their paper would dissuade WHO from adding the amendment to the ICD. "Given the gravity of diagnostic classification and its wider societal impact, we urge our colleagues at the WHO to err on the side of caution for now and postpone the formalization."