Smartphone addiction not a disease… yet: WHO

By DG Staff

ABU DHABI 18 November 2019: Although the World Health Organisation (WHO), has identified gaming addiction as a disorder, it has not found conclusive evidence to make a similar decision on gadget addiction, including excessive use of smartphones, a senior WHO official said.

“Before the decision was made on gaming disorder, WHO experts reviewed all evidence on potential behavioural addiction such as [excessive use of] smart phone and watching video materials etc. However, the conclusion was there was only evidence on gaming disorder and no other condition like smartphone addiction or something similar [qualified to be a disorder],” said Dr. Vladimir Poznyak, Coordinator of Management of Substance Abuse at Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

He was referring to the WHO decision to add gaming addiction to its International Classification of Diseases, ICD.

The WHO released the 11th revision of the ICD in mid-2018, which defined the gaming disorder as a pattern of gaming behaviour (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities.

Dr. Poznyak spoke to Wam on the sidelines of a recent meeting on Public Health Implications of Behavioural Addictions, which was held at the National Rehabilitation Centre,  the UAE’s leading rehabilitation body.

The official revealed that the WHO experts found that excessive use of gadgets, including smartphones, did not meet the criteria to qualify it as a disorder.

His revelation gains relevance in the wake of frequent reports on smartphone addiction in global media.

Dr. Vladimir Poznyak

Electronic devices such as smartphones have become part of our life and people spent a lot of time on them for many reasons, he pointed out.

“However, when you speak about a disorder, you need to have several key characteristics…you need to have an impairment in functioning of a person and an impact of wellbeing. You also need to have clinical signs and symptoms for such conditions, which were absent in the case of smartphone use,” Dr. Poznyak explained.

At the same time, the excessive use of gadgets like smartphones is dominant among young people, he said.

These conditions start with early exposure to devices during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, he noted. Addiction occurs due to biological factors as well because a lack of adequate brain growth causes inability among the youngsters to control their behaviour, he said.

Asked whether gaming disorder can cause any major diseases, Dr. Poznyak said, “I would not say this disorder causes other diseases. But it is definitely associated with other health conditions and it can lead to other health consequences.”

For example, gaming addiction is associated with sleep disorders, he pointed out.

People are involved in online gaming with their online partners or friends living in different time zones across the world – Australia, Asia, Europe and Americas – and they play long hours without sleep, causing sleep disorders.

Gaming disorder also make it difficult to maintain good health due to a lack of physical activity and muscle inflammation from the excessive use of a computer keyboard or mouse, Dr. Poznyak explained.

However, only a small percentage of gamers get addicted to gaming, he clarified.

Asked the exact figures, he said gaming addiction being a relatively new phenomenon, accurate data from across world were not available.

“However, based on studies conducted in different countries, we can assume that from 0.5 to 3 per cent of people [gamers] may have the disorder. I would like to emphasise that this is preliminary data and we need more info. But this conclusion is definite…a small proportion of gamers develop the disorder,” Dr. Poznyak concluded.

The inclusion of a disorder in WHO’s list of International Classification of Diseases, ICD, is a consideration, which countries take into account when planning public health strategies and monitoring trends of disorders.

The UAE has taken the first step in the wake of WHO adding gaming disorder into the list of ICDs.

As WAM reported on Saturday, an outpatient clinic for gaming addicts will open next year in Abu Dhabi.

The clinic at the premises of the National Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi will serve both Emiratis and expatriates, said Dr. Hamad Al Ghaferi, Director-General of the NRC.

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