Internet gambling disorder: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment

Internet gaming disorder, sometimes referred to as IGD, is an emerging diagnosis. The Internet is an integral part of the lives of people around the world for business, education and leisure. However, for some it has gone beyond typical usage to become what some people see as addictive behavior, especially in the online gaming arena.

As a result, IGD is increasingly discussed in research articles and studies as its understanding improves. Learn more about what is currently known about this disorder from this overview.

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What is Internet Gaming Disorder?

The IGD is the subject of discussions and studies both nationally and internationally. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), which contains the formal guidelines used by health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders, lists IGD in Section III, describing it as a condition requiring further research and experience.

The general idea of ​​IGD is the continued use of internet gambling as it causes distress and affects daily life and functioning. In addition, it is described separately from excessive use of the Internet, social media or online gambling.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also listed IGD in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the standard for diagnosing and categorizing diseases around the world.

WHO definition of IGD

IGD is “a model of gaming behavior (‘digital game’ or ‘video game’) characterized by impaired control of the game, an increasing priority given to gaming over other activities as the game takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and the continuation or escalation of gambling despite the appearance of negative consequences.

It must be present for 12 months and be severe enough to affect functioning in other areas of life such as personal, family, social, educational and professional life.


The proposed DSM-5 criteria for IGD require continuous and recurring Internet gambling causing clinically significant impairment or distress. It should be noticeable by at least five of the following signs in the past 12 months:

  • Concern with Internet gaming
  • Experience withdrawal when internet games are unavailable or are removed
  • Development of tolerance and need to spend more time playing internet games
  • Inability to control Internet gaming participation
  • Continued use of internet games while knowing the problems they cause
  • Mislead others about the amount of internet gambling
  • Using Internet Games as an Escape or Negative Mood Relief
  • Loss of interest in past hobbies and entertainment
  • Risky or lost an important relationship, job, opportunity, etc., by participating in internet games

People who are said to have this disease typically spend eight to 10 hours a day gambling on the Internet and at least 30 hours a week. It has been listed separately from gambling disorders because there is no money at risk.

Causes and risk factors

While not much is yet known about IGD, some research has looked at the causes, risk factors, and other conditions that may be associated with it. Some observed risk factors include impulsivity, lower social competence, and time spent gambling. Some conditions seen with IGD include depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

One study looked at how people with IGD can think and view their game psychologically. He proposed that the patient’s beliefs could be categorized into four main factors:

  • Beliefs about the reward of gambling and its place in reality
  • Inflexible rules on their playing behavior
  • Rely on gambling to meet their self-esteem needs
  • Gambling as a way to gain social acceptance


Since this disorder is still the subject of research and debate, the diagnostic criteria may change. However, if someone is worried about having IGD, it is important to let their doctor or mental health professional know.

They will take a full history, asking questions about internet games and the effects they may have had. If they are not themselves psychiatrists, they can also refer them to a psychiatrist, as they have additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses.


Although there have been studies done on treatment options for IGD, there are no formal recommendations. The number of studies conducted has increased over the past decade, mainly since the publication of the DSM-5. However, there is no established evidence for the effectiveness of a specific treatment.

Treatments that could be used in the future include both medication and therapy. The drugs studied so far are typically used to treat depression, including escitalopram (Lexapro) and bupropion (Wellbutrin), or ADHD, including methylphenidate (Ritalin) and atomoxetine (Strattera). The therapeutic methods studied are mainly based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and can be practiced individually or in groups.

A word from Verywell

It is essential to understand that while many people play online games, studies have shown that the actual number of people affected by Internet gambling disorder is only a small proportion. However, if you feel like your gambling or that of a loved one is starting to affect your day-to-day life and functioning, seek advice and help from a healthcare professional or mental health care provider. Although this diagnosis is still being studied, they can provide support and possibly treatment.

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