As many as five per cent of young people are addicted to gaming. Here’s how you can tell if your child is in danger of such an addition, which a leading health specialist says has similarities to drug and alcohol issues.
Dr John Saunders, who is Director of the Drug and Alcohol program at Wesley Hospital Kogarah, and a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) Expert Advisory Panel on Substance Abuse, has said that similarities exist between gaming disorder and drug and alcohol addiction.
As such, parents should think carefully before buying video games for their children this coming Christmas, he noted.
“Online gaming becomes a disorder when a person is engaged in it persistently – usually for longer than 12 months – to such an extent that their control becomes impaired, gaming takes priority over other responsibilities and they cannot stop,” Dr Saunders said.
“Higher among boys, it activates the same areas of the brain as gambling disorder or substance addiction and shares similar features: people can become moody or irritable if they are unable to game, and they can build up a ‘tolerance’ and need to game for longer periods of time.”
Gaming disorder can cause serious physical and mental health issues, he continued, as well social and academic problems.
“There are some people whose lives are so dominated by online gaming, they can game for 10 or more hours a day. This often causes sleep deprivation, mood changes, compromised physical health, a withdrawal from social activities, and poorer performance at school or university,” he explained.
Dr Saunders revealed nine signs and symptoms of gaming disorder that parents should be aware of when monitoring the behaviour and habits of their children:
Gaming for multiple hours a day
“While many young people play online games for one or two hours each day or only on weekends, someone with an addiction will binge for hours on end, even to 10-14 hours a day,” he said.
“Gaming disorder often begins in childhood but becomes excessive in adolescence, as kids spend more and more time in the virtual world.”
Loss of interest in school or studies
Gaming can consume a person’s life to such an extent that it takes precedence over school and university work, he mused.
“It is common for teenagers and young adults with gaming disorder to lose interest in their studies, skip days at school, and even drop out prematurely.”
Violence or aggression when technology is restricted
“Changes in mood are common for a young person with gaming disorder in the event of their parent confiscating their game or restricting their gaming time,” he advised.
The gamer may become moody, irritable, act aggressively or even become violent, he added.
Body weight changes
“When the addiction becomes severe, a person’s health and diet deteriorate. Weight loss and consequent vitamin and mineral depletion are signs of a gaming addiction, as they skip meals or wait until they are extremely hungry before eating,” he said.
Other gamers may become overweight from the lack of exercise and the increase in high-calorie foods, soft drinks or stimulant drinks, he said.
Change in sleeping patterns
Day and night patterns often reverse, and a gaming addict will play video games late into the night and, as a result, sleep during the day, he posited.
“This will make them irritable and moody as they try to meet the demands of work or study on an out-of-whack schedule and will lower their vitamin D due to lack of sunshine.”
Loss of interest in friendships and the outside world
“Losing interest in the outside world, becoming withdrawn from social activities, turning down invitations from friends, or spending less time with the family are often signs,” he said.
“Video games often involve three to eight players, so while young addicts may gain virtual friends, they can lose friends in the real world.”
Preoccupied with thoughts about gaming
“Most young people who play video games will think about it from time to time, but an addicted person will be preoccupied with thoughts of their last gaming session or will be anticipating their next one,” he advised.
A person with a video game addiction may not take the time to properly care for themselves, he commented.
“They may stop showering, brushing their teeth or washing their clothes regularly.”
Inability to stop playing
Like an addiction to alcohol or drugs, a young person with a gaming addiction will have impaired control over gaming, he said.
“They will not be able to stop playing despite the negative consequences.”
When it comes to treatment, Dr Saunders noted that the principles of recovery applied equally to all addiction disorders, but treatments can be tailored specifically for gaming disorder for young adults.
“Three-week inpatient detox and day-patient programs [such as at Wesley Hospital Kogarah] are available. These use cognitive behaviour therapy to teach people the skills to manage triggers, prevent relapse, recognise their emotions and personal responsibility, and develop relationships and healthy lifestyles, to assist in recovery. Approximately 50 per cent of patients also needed to be treated for underlying mental health disorders, such as social phobia, and medication is considered in some instances.”