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Flying ‘high’: A brief look at ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’

As part of my job I do a lot of travel. It’s an occupational necessity. Last year alone I did over 20 work trips abroad that comprised over 50 flights (such as the six flights that I had to take to get to a conference in Uruguay and then back to the UK). One of my research colleagues at a conference in Taiwan jokingly accused me of being ‘addicted’ to flying. Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, flying is little more than a way to get from A to B. However, I have tried to turn my experiences into something more positive and have written a number of short articles providing tips about flying and travelling abroad for outlets such as the British Medical Journal and the PsyPAG Quarterly (see ‘Further Reading’ below).

However, there are a few papers in the academic literature that have proposed the idea of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ in the Annals of Tourism Research. One British research team (Drs. Scott Cohen, James Higham and Christina Cavaliere) have written various papers on flying, particularly the dilemma that many business travellers face in wanting to be ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ but knowing that the amount of flying they are doing is contributing to climate change and leaving a ‘carbon footprint’.

One of the papers published by Cohen and his colleagues was entitled ‘Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change’. In their introduction to the topic, the authors referenced my 1996 paper in the Journal of Workplace Learning on behavioural addictions to argue there was now evidence that many behaviours could be potentially addictive even without the ingestion of a psychoactive substance. They then went on to say:

“[Two] articles in the popular press have further implicated frequent tourist air travel as a practice that may constitute behavioural addiction (Hill, 2007; Rosenthal, 2010). In stark contrast to most behavioural addictions, which are characterised by severe negative consequences for individuals directly, the destructive outcome attributable to excessive flying is premised upon air travel’s growing contribution to global climate change. Both Burns and Bibbings (2009) and Randles and Mander (2009) cite Hill’s (2007) interview in ‘The Observer’ with ‘Rough Guides’ founder Mark Ellingham, who coins the term ‘binge flying’ in critiquing the public’s growing appetite for holidays accessed through air travel”.

They also used my 1996 paper to make a number of points to support their premise that excessive flying can be conceptualized as an addiction. More specifically, they noted:

“Griffiths (1996) notes that behavioural addictions may have ‘normative ambiguity’, in that moderate use is accepted but stigma can result from over-enactment of the behaviour, or compulsive consumption (Hirschman, 1992)…Even though addictions are typically conceptualised as purely negative, Griffiths (1996) distinguishes a number of possible addiction benefits that individuals may perceive, such as changes of mood and feelings of escape, positive experiences of pleasure, excitement, relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as a source of identity and/or meaning in life…Not only does excessive tourist air travel meet this basic criterion of behavioural addiction where longer-term outlooks are sacrificed for immediate gratification, but tourist experiences also supply many of the psychological benefits that Griffiths (1996) uses to characterise sites of potential behavioural addiction. These include feelings of escape, heightened experiences of pleasure and excitement (a ‘buzz’ or ‘rush’), relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as an arena for identity work and searching for meaning in life”.

To support their argument that flying can be an addiction, they assert there are three key characteristics that can be found in addictive behavior that can be applied to flying: (i) a drive or urge to engage in the behaviour, (ii) a denial of the harmful consequences of the behaviour, and (iii) a failure in attempts to modify the behaviour. As regular readers of my blog will know, I operationally define addictive behaviour as comprising six components (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse), and as such, flying would be unlikely to be classed as an addiction by my own criteria. The authors interviewed 30 participants as part of their research but little of the qualitative data presented made any reference to addiction or elements of addictive behaviour. They somehow concluded that:

“Continued movement in consumer discourses towards a mainstream negative perception of the practice of holiday frequent flying may eventually find tourism consumption the further subject of query as an addictive phenomenon. Frequent air travel may then join gambling, smoking, shopping, video games and Internet use, (Clark & Calleja, 2008), amongst others, as ‘pathologised’ sites of behavioural addiction that reflect society’s (re)positioning of certain types of behaviour as socially dysfunctional”.

The concept of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ were more recently critiqued by Dr. Martin Young and colleagues in a 2014 issue of the Annals of Tourism Research. Their view closely matches my own view (and they also cite my 1996 paper on behavioural addictions) when they asserted:

“We take issue with the application of a behavioural addiction framework in the context of consumption generally, and frequent flying specifically. We argue that while the conceptual lens of behavioural addiction may be seductive to some (cf. Hill, 2007), it is, in contrast to the position of Cohen et al. (2011), ultimately counterproductive to the development of a meaningful critical response to the question of frequent flying and environmental damage… There is, of course, a deep irony in even trying to view frequent flying through the lens of addiction. Tourism, traditionally the realm of freedom, unconstraint and abandon (Crompton, 1979; Sharpley, 2003) is now recast as a pathology, associated with the pernicious tendencies of the human psyche.

Dr. Young and colleagues’ paper asserts that the idea that flying in extreme cases could be classed as a behavioural addiction is “unconvincing” (and again is something that I agree with). The paper also adapts the 2013 DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder (substituting the word ‘gambling’ with ‘flying’) to highlight that while it is theoretically possible for someone to have an addiction to flying, it is highly unlikely even amongst the most frequent of flyers. As they note:

“A diagnosed flying addict (and some may exist) would appear to differ from the frequent flyer who is feeling guilty about the environmental consequences of flying. Indeed, the latter would appear to be entirely rational. Flying may be associated with feelings of guilt and suppression, but so are many other activities, like driving to work, using plastic bags, and using electricity from coal-powered generators. This does not make flying an addiction as defined by the DSM-5. In addition, a flying addict would be addicted to the act of flying when, in reality, people fly as part of a broader tourism or business journey or experience. Flying may be incidental to the motivations for travel, merely an unavoidable part of attaining a particular experience. In other words, the focus of flying addiction is likely to be complicated and shifting, unlike, for instance, gambling addiction, that is more clear-cut”.

Pathologizing a behaviour like flying may be stretching the addiction analogy a little too far, but I don’t see a theoretical reason why someone could not become addicted. However, it’s unknown as to what the actual object of flying addiction might be. Is it the actual flying and being in the air? The thrill of take-offs and landings? Is it the feeling of being attended and catered for (especially when flying business class) by the airline staff? Is it the anticipation associated of visiting somewhere new? All of these suggestions could be empirically tested but probably from a purely motivational view rather than from an addiction perspective.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Burns, P., & Bibbings, L. (2009). The end of tourism? Climate change and societal challenges. 21st Century Society, 4(1), 31-51.

Clark, M., & Calleja, K. (2008). Shopping addiction: A preliminary investigation among Maltese university students. Addiction Research and Theory, 16(6), 633-649.

Cohen, S. A., Higham, J. E., & Cavaliere, C. T. (2011). Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(3), 1070-1089.

Crompton, J. (1979). Motivations for pleasure vacation. Annals of Tourism Research, 6(4), 408–424.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Tips on…Business travel abroad, British Medical Journal, 327, S38.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Tips on…Conference travel abroad. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 83, 4-6.

Higham, J. Cohen, S. & Cavaliere, C. (2013). ‘Climate breakdown’ and the ‘flyer’s dilemma’: Insights from three European societies. In: Fountain, J. & Moore, K. (Eds.). CAUTHE 2013: Tourism and Global Change: On the Edge of Something Big (pp. 321-324). Christchurch, N.Z.: Lincoln University.

Hill, A. (2007). Travel: The new tobacco. The Observer, May 6. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2007/may/06/travelnews.climatechange

Hirschman, E. C. (1992). The consciousness of addiction: Toward a general theory of compulsive consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(2), 155-179.

Randles, S., & Mander, S. (2009a). Practice(s) and ratchet(s): A sociological examination of frequent flying. In S. Gössling & P. Upham (Eds.), Climate change and aviation: Issues, challenges and solutions (pp. 245-271). London: Earthscan.

Rosenthal, E. (2010, 24 May). Can we kick our addiction to flying? Guardian, May 24. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/24/kick- addiction-flying

Sharpley, R. (2003). Tourism, tourists and society. Huntingdon: Elm Publications.

Young, M., Higham, J.E.S. & Reis, A.C. (2014). ‘Up in the air’: A conceptual critique of flying addiction. Annals of Tourism Research, 49, 51-64.

Played to death: What turns online gaming into a health risk?

Please note that the following article is a slightly extended version of an article that was first published by CNN International

Last month, a 32-year old male gamer was found dead at a Taiwanese Internet café following a non-stop three-day gaming session. This followed the death of another male gamer who died in Taipei at the start of the year following a five-day gaming binge.

While these cases are extremely rare, it does beg the question of why gaming can lead to such excessive behaviour. I have spent nearly three decades studying videogame addiction and there are many studies published in both the medical and psychological literature showing that very excessive gaming can lead to a variety of health problems that range from repetitive strain injuries and obesity, through to auditory and visual hallucinations and addiction. I have to stress that there is lots of scientific research showing the many educational and therapeutic benefits of playing but there is definitely a small minority of gamers that develop problems as a result of gaming overuse.

But what is it that makes gaming so compulsive and addictive for the small minority? For me, addiction boils down to constant reinforcement, or put more simply, being constantly rewarded while playing the game. Gaming rewards can be physiological (such as feeling ‘high’ or getting a ‘buzz’ while playing or beating your personal high score), psychological (such as feeling you have complete control in a specific situation or knowing that your strategic play helped you win), social (such as being congratulated by fellow gamers when doing something well in the game) and, in some cases, financial (such as winning a gaming tournament). Most of these rewards are – at least to some extent – unpredictable. Not knowing when the next reward will come keeps some players in the game. In short, they carry on gaming even though they may not have received an immediate reward. They simply hope that another reward is ‘just around the corner’ and keep on playing.

Added to this is the shift over the last decade from standalone console gaming to massively multiplayer online games where games never end and gamers have to compete and/or collaborate with other gamers in real time (instead of being able to pause the game and come back and play from the point at which the player left it). Many excessive gamers report that they hate logging off and leaving such games. They don’t like it as they don’t know what is going on in the game when they are not online.

The last five years has seen large increase in the number of scientific studies on problematic gaming. In May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association published the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). For the first time, the DSM-5 included ‘internet gaming disorder’ (IGD) as a psychological condition that warrants future research. Throughout my research career I have argued that although all addictions have particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they share more commonalities than differences such as total preoccupation, mood modification, cravings, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict with work, education and other people, and loss of control. These similarities likely reflect a common etiology of addictive behaviour.

So when does a healthy enthusiasm turn into an addiction? At the simplest level, healthy enthusiams add to life and addictions take away from it. But how much is too much? This is difficult to answer as I know many gamers who play many hours every day without any detrimental effects. The DSM-5 lists nine criteria for IGD. If any gamer endorses five or more of the following criteria they would likely be diagnosed as having IGD: (1) preoccupation with internet games; (2) withdrawal symptoms when internet gaming is taken away; (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in internet gaming, (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in internet gaming; (5) loss of interest in hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, internet gaming; (6) continued excessive use of internet games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems; (7) deception of family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of internet gaming; (8) use of the internet gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood;  and (9) loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in internet games.

The good news is that only a small minority of gamers suffer form IGD. Most online games are fun and exciting to play. But like any activity that is taken to excess, in a minority of cases the activity can become addictive. Any activity if done for days on end could lead to severe health problems and even death – and gaming is no exception. Instead of demonizing games, we need to educate gamers about the potential dangers of very excessive use.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Gaming addiction in adolescence (revisited). Education and Health, 32, 125-129.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Honrubia-Serrano, M.L., Baguley, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Pathological video game playing in Spanish and British adolescents: Towards the Internet Gaming Disorder symptomatology. Computers in Human Behavior, 41, 304–312.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.

Spekman, M.L.C., Konijn, E.A, Roelofsma, P.H.M.P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Gaming addiction, definition, and measurement: A large-scale empirical study, Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2150-2155.

Joystick junkies: A brief overview of online gaming addiction

Over the last 15 years, research into various online addictions have greatly increased. Prior to the 2013 publication of the American Psychiatric Association’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there had been some debate as to whether ‘internet addiction’ should be introduced into the text as a separate disorder. Alongside this, there has also been debate as to whether those researching in the online addiction field should be researching generalized internet use and/or the potentially addictive activities that can be engaged on the internet (e.g., gambling, video gaming, sex, shopping, etc.).

It should also be noted that given the lack of consensus as to whether video game addiction exists and/or whether the term ‘addiction’ is the most appropriate to use, some researchers have instead used terminology such as ‘excessive’ or ‘problematic’ to denote the harmful use of video games. Terminology for what appears to be for the same disorder and/or its consequences include problem video game playing, problematic online game use, video game addiction, online gaming addiction, internet gaming addiction, and compulsive Internet use.

Following these debates, the Substance Use Disorder Work Group (SUDWG) recommended that the DSM-5 include a sub-type of problematic internet use (i.e., internet gaming disorder [IGD]) in Section 3 (‘Emerging Measures and Models’) as an area that needed future research before being included in future editions of the DSM. According to Dr. Nancy Petry and Dr. Charles O’Brien, IGD will not be included as a separate mental disorder until the (i) defining features of IGD have been identified, (ii) reliability and validity of specific IGD criteria have been obtained cross-culturally, (iii) prevalence rates have been determined in representative epidemiological samples across the world, and (iv) etiology and associated biological features have been evaluated.

Although there is now a rapidly growing literature on pathological video gaming, one of the key reasons that IGD was not included in the main text of the DSM-5 was that the SUDWG concluded that no standard diagnostic criteria were used to assess gaming addiction across these many studies. In 2013, some of my colleagues and I published a paper in Clinical Psychology Review examining all instruments assessing problematic, pathological and/or addictive gaming. We reported that 18 different screening instruments had been developed, and that these had been used in 63 quantitative studies comprising 58,415 participants. The prevalence rates for problematic gaming were highly variable depending on age (e.g., children, adolescents, young adults, older adults) and sample (e.g., college students, internet users, gamers, etc.). Most studies’ prevalence rates of problematic gaming ranged between 1% and 10% but higher figures have been reported (particularly amongst self-selected samples of video gamers). In our review, we also identified both strengths and weaknesses of these instruments.

The main strengths of the instrumentation included the: (i) the brevity and ease of scoring, (ii) excellent psychometric properties such as convergent validity and internal consistency, and (iii) robust data that will aid the development of standardized norms for adolescent populations. However, the main weaknesses identified in the instrumentation included: (i) core addiction indicators being inconsistent across studies, (iii) a general lack of any temporal dimension, (iii) inconsistent cut-off scores relating to clinical status, (iv) poor and/or inadequate inter-rater reliability and predictive validity, and (v) inconsistent and/or dimensionality.

It has also been noted by many researchers (including me) that the criteria for IGD assessment tools are theoretically based on a variety of different potentially problematic activities including substance use disorders, pathological gambling, and/or other behavioural addiction criteria. There are also issues surrounding the settings in which diagnostic screens are used as those used in clinical practice settings may require a different emphasis that those used in epidemiological, experimental, and neurobiological research settings.

Video gaming that is problematic, pathological and/or addictive lacks a widely accepted definition. Some researchers in the field consider video games as the starting point for examining the characteristics of this specific disorder, while others consider the internet as the main platform that unites different addictive internet activities, including online games. My colleagues and I have begun to make an effort to integrate both approaches, i.e., classifying online gaming addiction as a sub-type of video game addiction but acknowledging that some situational and structural characteristics of the internet may facilitate addictive tendencies (e.g., accessibility, anonymity, affordability, disinhibition, etc.).

Throughout my career I have argued that although all addictions have particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they share more commonalities than differences (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse), and likely reflects a common etiology of addictive behaviour. When I started research internet addiction in the mid-1990s, I came to the view that there is a fundamental difference between addiction to the internet, and addictions on the internet. However many online games (such as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) differ from traditional stand-alone video games as there are social and/or role-playing dimension that allow interaction with other gamers.

Irrespective of approach or model, the components and dimensions that comprise online gaming addiction outlined above are very similar to the IGD criteria in Section 3 of the DSM-5. For instance, my six addiction components directly map onto the nine proposed criteria for IGD (of which five or more need to be endorsed and resulting in clinically significant impairment). More specifically: (1) preoccupation with internet games [salience]; (2) withdrawal symptoms when internet gaming is taken away [withdrawal]; (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in internet gaming [tolerance], (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in internet gaming [relapse/loss of control]; (5) loss of interest in hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, internet gaming [conflict]; (6) continued excessive use of internet games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems [conflict]; (7) deception of family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of internet gaming [conflict]; (8) use of the internet gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood [mood modification];  and (9) loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in internet games [conflict].

The fact that IGD was included in Section 3 of the DSM-5 appears to have been well received by researchers and clinicians in the gaming addiction field (and by those individuals that have sought treatment for such disorders and had their experiences psychiatrically validated and feel less stigmatized). However, for IGD to be included in the section on ‘Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders’ along with ‘Gambling Disorder’, the gaming addiction field must unite and start using the same assessment measures so that comparisons can be made across different demographic groups and different cultures.

For epidemiological purposes, my research colleagues and I have asserted that the most appropriate measures in assessing problematic online use (including internet gaming) should meet six requirements. Such an instrument should have: (i) brevity (to make surveys as short as possible and help overcome question fatigue); (ii) comprehensiveness (to examine all core aspects of problematic gaming as possible); (iii) reliability and validity across age groups (e.g., adolescents vs. adults); (iv) reliability and validity across data collection methods (e.g., online, face-to-face interview, paper-and-pencil); (v) cross-cultural reliability and validity; and (vi) clinical validation. We aso reached the conclusion that an ideal assessment instrument should serve as the basis for defining adequate cut-off scores in terms of both specificity and sensitivity.

The good news is that research in the gaming addiction field does appear to be reaching an emerging consensus. There have also been over 20 studies using neuroimaging techniques (such as functional magnetic resonance imaging) indicating that generalized internet addiction and online gaming addiction share neurobiological similarities with more traditional addictions. However, it is critical that a unified approach to assessment of IGD is urgently needed as this is the only way that there will be a strong empirical and scientific basis for IGD to be included in the next DSM.

Note: A version of this article was first published on Rehabs.com

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Text Revision (Fifth Edition). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M. D., Pápay, O., . . . Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5), e36417.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M. D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10(4), 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, under review.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Kim, M. G., & Kim, J. (2010). Cross-validation of reliability, convergent and discriminant validity for the problematic online game use scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(3), 389-398.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., Griffiths, M. D., & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Cognitive-behavioral approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Koronczai, B., Urban, R., Kokonyei, G., Paksi, B., Papp, K., Kun, B., . . . Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Confirmation of the three-factor model of problematic internet use on off-line adolescent and adult samples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 657–664.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2013).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, in press.

Pápay, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment. New York: Elsevier.

Petry, N.M., & O’Brien, C.P. (2013). Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5. Addiction, 108, 1186–1187.

Porter, G., Starcevic, V., Berle, D., & Fenech, P. (2010). Recognizing problem video game use. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 120-128.

Young, K. S. (1998). Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 1, 237-244.

Carry on screening: A brief look at Internet Gaming Disorder

In this month’s issue of the Neuropsychiatry journal, I – and my research colleagues (Dr. Daniel King and Dr. Zsolt Demetrovics) – published a paper arguing that Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Over the last 15 years, research into various online addictions has greatly increased. Prior to the publication of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013, there had been some debate as to whether ‘internet addiction’ should be introduced into the text as a separate disorder. Alongside this, there has also been debate as to whether those researching in the online addiction field should be researching generalized internet use and/or the potentially addictive activities that can be engaged on the internet (e.g., gambling, video gaming, sex, shopping, etc.)

Following these debates, the Substance Use Disorder Work Group (SUDWG) recommended that the DSM-5 include a sub-type of problematic internet use (i.e., internet gaming disorder [IGD]) in Section 3 (‘Emerging Measures and Models’) as an area that needed future research before being included in future editions of the DSM. According to Dr. Nancy Petry and Dr. Charles O’Brien writing in a 2013 issue of Addiction, IGD will not be included as a separate mental disorder until the (i) defining features of IGD have been identified, (ii) reliability and validity of specific IGD criteria have been obtained cross-culturally, (iii) prevalence rates have been determined in representative epidemiological samples across the world, and (iv) etiology and associated biological features have been evaluated.

Although there is now a rapidly growing literature on pathological video gaming, one of the key reasons that IGD was not included in the main text of the DSM-5 was that the SUDWG concluded that no standard diagnostic criteria were used to assess gaming addiction across these many studies. A 2013 overview of instruments assessing problematic gaming by my colleagues and I in Clinical Psychology Review reported that 18 different screening instruments had been developed, and that these had been used in 63 quantitative studies comprising 58,415 participants. This comprehensive review identified both strengths and weaknesses of these instruments.

The main strengths of the instrumentation included the: (i) the brevity and ease of scoring, (ii) excellent psychometric properties such as convergent validity and internal consistency, and (iii) robust data that will aid the development of standardized norms for adolescent populations. However, the main weaknesses identified in the instrumentation included: (i) core addiction indicators being inconsistent across studies, (iii) a general lack of any temporal dimension, (iii) inconsistent cut-off scores relating to clinical status, (iv) poor and/or inadequate inter-rater reliability and predictive validity, and (v) inconsistent and/or dimensionality. It has also been noted by a number of authors that the criteria for IGD assessment tools are theoretically based on a variety of different potentially problematic activities including substance use disorders, pathological gambling, and/or other behavioral addiction criteria. There are also issues surrounding the settings in which diagnostic screens are used as those used in clinical practice settings may require a different emphasis that those used in epidemiological, experimental and neurobiological research settings.

Video gaming that is problematic, pathological and/or addictive (i.e., IGD) lacks a widely accepted definition. In a recent book chapter (in the 2014 book Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment edited by Dr. Ken Rosenberg and Dr. Laura Feder), I and some of my Hungarian colleagues argued that some researchers consider video games as the starting point for examining the characteristics of this specific disorder, while others consider the internet as the main platform that unites different addictive internet activities, including online games. Recent studies have made an effort to integrate both approaches Consequently, IGD can either be viewed as a specific type of video game addiction, or as a variant of internet addiction, or as an independent diagnosis.

As I argued in one of my previous blogs, although all addictions have particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they share more commonalities than differences (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse), and this likely reflects a common etiology of addictive behavior. Consequently, online game addiction may be viewed as a specific type of video game addiction. Similarly, Dr. G. Porter and colleagues in a 2010 issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, do not differentiate between problematic video game use and problematic online game use. They conceptualized problematic video game use as excessive use of one or more video games resulting in a preoccupation with and a loss of control over playing video games, and various negative psychosocial and/or physical consequences. However, unlike my conceptualization of gaming addiction, their criteria for problematic video game use does not include other features usually associated with dependence or addiction, (e.g., tolerance, physical symptoms of withdrawal), as they say there is no clear evidence that problematic gaming is associated with such phenomena. Researchers such as Dr. Kimberley Young view online gaming addiction as a sub-type of internet addiction and that the internet itself provides situation-specific characteristics that facilitate gaming becoming problematic and/or addictive.

In a 2010 issue of Computers in Human Behavior, Dr. M.G. Kim and Dr. J. Kim’s [11] proposed a Problematic Online Game Use (POGU) model that takes a more integrative approach and claims that neither of the approaches outlined above adequately capture the unique features of online games such as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs). They argue that the internet is just one channel where people may access the content they want (e.g., gambling, shopping, sex, etc.) and that such users may become addicted to the particular content rather than the channel itself. This is analogous to the argument that I made over 15 years ago in a number of different papers that there is a fundamental difference between addiction to the internet, and addictions on the internet. However, MMORPGs differ from traditional stand-alone video games as there are social and/or role-playing dimension that allow interaction with other gamers.

The POGU model resulted in five underlying dimensions of addictive gameplay (i.e., euphoria, health problems, conflict, failure of self-control, and preference of virtual relationship). I also support the integrative approach and stress the need to include all types of online games in addiction models in order to make comparisons between genres and gamer populations possible (such as those who play online Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games and online First Person Shooter (FPS) games in addition to the widely researched MMORPG players). The POGU model comprises six dimensions (i.e., preoccupation, overuse, immersion, social isolation, interpersonal conflicts, and withdrawal).

Irrespective of approach or model, the components and dimensions that comprise online gaming addiction outlined above are very similar to the IGD criteria in Section 3 of the DSM-5. For instance, my six addiction components directly map onto the nine proposed criteria for IGD (of which five or more need to be endorsed and resulting in clinically significant impairment). More specifically: (1) preoccupation with internet games [salience]; (2) withdrawal symptoms when internet gaming is taken away [withdrawal]; (3) the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in internet gaming [tolerance], (4) unsuccessful attempts to control participation in internet gaming [relapse/loss of control]; (5) loss of interest in hobbies and entertainment as a result of, and with the exception of, internet gaming [conflict]; (6) continued excessive use of internet games despite knowledge of psychosocial problems [conflict]; (7) deception of family members, therapists, or others regarding the amount of internet gaming [conflict]; (8) use of the internet gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood [mood modification];  and (9) loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of participation in internet games [conflict].

The fact that IGD was included in Section 3 of the DSM-5 appears to have been well received by researchers and clinicians in the gaming addiction field (and by those individuals that have sought treatment for such disorders and had their experiences psychiatrically validated and feel less stigmatized). However, for IGD to be included in the section on ‘Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders’ along with ‘Gambling Disorder’, the gaming addiction field must unite and start using the same assessment measures so that comparisons can be made across different demographic groups and different cultures.

For epidemiological purposes, Dr. B. Koronczai and colleagues in a 2011 issue of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, asserted that the most appropriate measures in assessing problematic online use (including internet gaming) should meet six requirements. Such an instrument should have: (i) brevity (to make surveys as short as possible and help overcome question fatigue); (ii) comprehensiveness (to examine all core aspects of IGD as possible); (iii) reliability and validity across age groups (e.g., adolescents vs. adults); (iv) reliability and validity across data collection methods (e.g., online, face-to-face interview, paper-and-pencil); (v) cross-cultural reliability and validity; and (vi) clinical validation. It was also noted that an ideal assessment instrument should serve as the basis for defining adequate cut-off scores in terms of both specificity and sensitivity. To fulfill all these requirements, future research should adjust the currently used assessment tools to the newly accepted DSM-5 criteria and take much more efforts to reach and study clinical samples, which is an unequivocal shortcoming of both internet and gaming research.

In addition to further epidemiological and clinical research, further research is also needed on the neurobiology of IGD. A systematic review of 18 neuroimaging studies examining internet addiction and IGD by Dr. Daria Kuss and Griffiths in a 2012 issue of Brain Sciences noted that:

“These studies provide compelling evidence for the similarities between different types of addictions, notably substance-related addictions and Internet and gaming addiction, on a variety of levels. On the molecular level, Internet addiction is characterized by an overall reward deficiency that entails decreased dopaminergic activity. On the level of neural circuitry, Internet and gaming addiction lead to neuroadaptation and structural changes that occur as a consequence of prolonged increased activity in brain areas associated with addiction. On a behavioral level, Internet and gaming addicts appear to be constricted with regards to their cognitive functioning in various domains” (p.347).

The good news is that research in the gaming addiction field does appear to be reaching an emerging consensus. We noted in our 2013 Clinical Psychology Review paper that across many different studies, IGD is commonly defined by (a) withdrawal, (b) loss of control, and (c) conflict. However, it is critical that a unified approach to assessment of IGD is urgently needed as this is the only way that there will be a strong empirical basis for IGD to be included in the next DSM.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Text Revision (Fifth Edition). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M. D., Pápay, O., . . . Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5), e36417.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M. D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10(4), 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, under review.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Kim, M. G., & Kim, J. (2010). Cross-validation of reliability, convergent and discriminant validity for the problematic online game use scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(3), 389-398.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., Griffiths, M. D., & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Cognitive-behavioral approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C.,Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Koronczai, B., Urban, R., Kokonyei, G., Paksi, B., Papp, K., Kun, B., . . . Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Confirmation of the three-factor model of problematic internet use on off-line adolescent and adult samples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 657–664.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2013).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, in press.

Pápay, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment. New York: Elsevier.

Petry, N.M., & O’Brien, C.P. (2013). Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5. Addiction, 108, 1186–1187.

Porter, G., Starcevic, V., Berle, D., & Fenech, P. (2010). Recognizing problem video game use. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 120-128.

Young, K. S. (1998). Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 1, 237-244.