In This Article Internet and Video Game Addiction

  • Introduction
  • An Overview of Internet and Video Game Addiction
  • Neurobiological Studies of Internet and Video Game Addiction
  • Psychosocial Correlates of Internet and Video Game Addiction
  • Interventions for Internet and Video Game Addiction
  • Prevention Programs for Internet and Video Game Addiction

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Social Work Internet and Video Game Addiction
Wen (Vivien) Li Anthony, Blake Anthony
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0258


Internet and video games have become a major aspect of modern culture and daily life. According to Internet World Stats, more than 3.7 billion people worldwide accessed the Internet via computers, smartphones, and/or tablet computers in March 2017 (see World Internet Usage and Population Statistics, 2017). The 3.7 billion Internet users in 2017 represented a 933.8 percent increase over the number of Internet users in 2000 (see World Internet Usage and Population Statistics, 2017). Moreover, playing video games has become a major entertainment activity for many people. According to Global Games Market Report (2017), more than 2 billion people worldwide play video games via computer, game consoles (e.g., Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo), and/or mobile devices (e.g., smartphones and tablet computers) on the Internet and offline. Widespread Internet availability and video game development substantially benefit people by enhancing their access to a broad range of information and creating avenues for social communication and recreation. However, the penetration of the Internet and video games into daily life is a serious problem for an increasing number of people, rising to the level of addictive habits and carrying negative consequences similar to substance use and gambling disorders. China and South Korea have identified Internet and video game addiction as a significant public health issue. In addition to those countries, cases of Internet and video game addiction have been reported by media, clinical workers, and researchers in many other regions. Kimberly Young first adapted the DSM-IV compulsive gambling disorder criteria to define Internet addiction disorder in 1998 (Shaw and Black 2008, cited under An Overview of Internet and Video Game Addiction). In the past twenty years, a deluge of research has been conducted to conceptualize Internet and video game addiction, explore the etiology and mechanisms of Internet and video game addiction, estimate the prevalence rates of these problems in different regions and populations, and develop and evaluate measurement instruments, diagnostic criteria, and evidence-based intervention and prevention programs for Internet and video game addiction. A number of inpatient and outpatient intervention programs are provided in clinical settings for individuals suffering from Internet and video game addiction.

An Overview of Internet and Video Game Addiction

Shaw and Black 2008, Weinstein and Lejoyeux 2010, and Liu and Potenza 2007 reviewed the definitions and classifications, clinical symptoms, epidemiology, psychosocial correlates of Internet addiction, and potential treatments for Internet addiction. In the literature, a variety of terms are used to refer to seriously dysfunctional patterns of excessive Internet and video game use, including “Internet addiction,” “pathological/problematic Internet use,” “compulsive Internet use,” “Internet dependency,” “video game addiction,” “Internet gaming disorder,” and “online gaming addiction.” In addition to generalized pathological/problematic Internet use–related behaviors, other specific behaviors have been subsumed under the construct of Internet addiction, such as Internet sex addiction involving compulsive use of adult websites for sexual interaction with other people on the Internet and compulsive online pornography viewing (Young 2008), and video game addiction or Internet gaming disorder (King, et al. 2010; Kuss and Griffiths 2012). A large amount of research conceptualizes pathological patterns of Internet use and video game playing as behavioral addictions, emphasizing core components of addiction, such as preoccupation with Internet activities, increasing tolerance (i.e., increasing amounts of time spent on the Internet and gaming to achieve the same level of satisfaction), development of psychological dependency and withdrawal symptoms, and psychosocial impairments due to Internet addiction (Shaw and Black 2008; Weinstein and Lejoyeux 2010). Other studies argue a lack of empirical research to support the definition of pathological Internet use as an addiction and therefore refer to such phenomenon as problematic/pathological Internet use (Caplan 2007 and Davis 2001). Caplan 2007 and Davis 2001 conceptualized problematic/pathological Internet use using cognitive-behavioral models. Brand, et al. 2016 provided a conceptual framework that suggests interactions of neuro-cognitive-affective factors implicated in different types of Internet addiction. Internet gaming disorder has been included in section 3 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association 2013). According to the proposed DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, Internet gaming disorder is defined as a pattern of excessive and pathological video game playing. See Measurement Instruments and Diagnostic Criteria for Internet and Video Game Addiction for detailed information regarding DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for Internet gaming disorder. The contributors to DSM-5 decided not to include other types of Internet-related problematic behaviors as psychiatric disorders due to a lack of empirical evidence.

  • American Psychiatric Association. 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

    E-mail Citation »

    DSM-5 introduced Internet gaming disorder as a non-substance addiction and proposed a nine-item diagnostic criteria for Internet gaming disorder in section 3.

  • Brand, M., K. S. Young, C. Laier, K. Wölfling, and M. N. Potenza. 2016. Integrating psychological and neurobiological considerations regarding the development and maintenance of specific Internet-use disorders: An Interaction of Person-Affect-Cognition-Execution (I-PACE) model. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 71:252–266.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.08.033E-mail Citation »

    Brand and colleagues proposed an interaction of person-affect-cognition-execution model that explains mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of different types of Internet addictions, including gaming, gambling, pornography viewing, shopping, or communications. The authors suggested that these specific Internet addictions are a consequence of interactions between neurobiological and psychological contributions, coping styles and cognitive biases related to Internet use, and affective and cognitive responses to triggers in combination with reduced executive functioning.

  • Caplan, S. E. 2007. Relations among loneliness, social anxiety, and problematic Internet use. CyberPsychology & Behavior 10.2: 234–242.

    DOI: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9963E-mail Citation »

    Caplan applied cognitive-behavioral theory to explain mechanisms of the generalized problematic Internet use. In this study, Caplan proposed and examined the relationships among feelings of loneliness, social anxiety, and preference for online social interaction implicated in the development and maintenance of problematic Internet use.

  • Davis, R. A. 2001. A cognitive-behavioral model of pathological Internet use. Computers in Human Behavior 17.2: 187–195.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0747-5632(00)00041-8E-mail Citation »

    Davis presented a cognitive-behavioral model that Internet use–related maladaptive cognitions are implicated in the development and maintenance of pathological Internet use. Davis also proposed to distinguish “specific pathological Internet use,” such as online sex or online gaming, from “generalized pathological Internet use” that describes a more global set of behaviors. The proposed theoretic model may be used to develop cognitive-behavioral interventions for Internet addiction.

  • King, D., P. Delfabbro, and M. Griffiths. 2010. Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction 8.1: 90–106.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11469-009-9206-4E-mail Citation »

    This review discussed structural characteristics of video games that may be related to video game addiction. Those that may be related to Internet addiction included social aspects of video game playing; the role of users in manipulating and controlling in-game outcomes; the role of users in creating in-game characters and interacting in storytelling, reward, and punishment mechanisms; and the visual and auditory presentation of video games.

  • Kuss, D. J., and M. D. Griffiths. 2012. Internet gaming addiction: A systematic review of empirical research. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction 10.2: 278–296.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11469-011-9318-5E-mail Citation »

    Kuss and Griffiths systematically evaluated fifty-eight studies examining video game addiction and reviewed findings of these studies regarding (1) classification and assessment of video game addiction; (2) etiology of video game addiction including personality traits of gamers, motivations for video game playing, and neurobiological, cognitive, and psychiatric correlates of video game addiction; and (3) negative outcomes of, and treatments for, video game addiction.

  • Liu, T., and M. N. Potenza. 2007. Problematic Internet use: Clinical implications. CNS Spectrums 12.6: 453–466.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1092852900015339E-mail Citation »

    This article reviewed definitions and proposed diagnostic criteria of Internet addiction and problematic Internet use, estimated prevalence rates, physical and psychosocial impairments, psychiatric comorbidity of Internet addiction, and proposed treatments for Internet addiction. The authors also discussed the conflict in literature regarding gender differences in Internet addiction. In addition, they suggested that college students are more vulnerable to developing problematic Internet use than other populations.

  • Shaw, M., and D. W. Black. 2008. Internet addiction: Definition, assessment, epidemiology, and clinical management. CNS Drugs 22.5: 353–365.

    DOI: 10.2165/00023210-200822050-00001E-mail Citation »

    This article reviewed definition and classification, clinical symptoms, assessment and measurement instruments, epidemiology, psychiatric comorbidity, personality disorders and traits, and family factors of Internet addiction. Moreover, the study reviewed different conceptual frameworks that explained the mechanisms of Internet addiction, including cognitive-behavioral theory, social skill deficit theory, neurobiological theory, and cultural mechanisms of Internet addiction. Clinical implication, including promising interventions for Internet addiction, was also discussed.

  • Weinstein, A., and M. Lejoyeux. 2010. Internet addiction or excessive Internet use. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 36.5: 277–283.

    DOI: 10.3109/00952990.2010.491880E-mail Citation »

    This article reviewed problem definition, diagnosis and prevalence rates, comorbidity, outcomes of Internet addiction, and proposed treatments for Internet addiction. The authors reviewed different theoretical works that explain why people become addicted to the Internet, including studies of neurobiology and brain imaging among people with Internet addiction and evidence of genetic factors, personality traits, cognitive factors, and family factors that may have an impact on the development of Internet addiction.

  • Young, K. S. 2008. Internet sex addiction: Risk factors, stages of development, and treatment. American Behavioral Scientist 52.1: 21–37.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002764208321339E-mail Citation »

    Young described definition and warning signs of Internet sex addiction, reviewed risk factors and processes underlying the development of Internet sex addiction, and proposed treatments that can be used in clinical work to address Internet sex addiction.

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