In Depth

How to spot a computer game addiction

NHS to offer counselling for young people hooked on gaming

The NHS is to begin offering young people counselling and other forms of treatment for gaming addictions.

Sky News reports that the health service this week launched its Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders (CIGD), a counselling service for people aged between 13 and 25. Mental health professionals will be able to hold consultations with patients via Skype in order to help them kick their gaming habits, and GPs in England can now refer addicts to the service, with treatment starting in November.

The Guardian says the CIGD has been set up “because of concern about the growing number of children and young people whose heavy use of computer games is causing problems for them, especially with their mental health”.

The move comes just one year after the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised “gaming disorders” as legitimate medical conditions for the first time, including them in its latest revised edition of the International Classification of Diseases.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of CIGD, said that a gaming disorder is a “mental health condition which can have a hugely debilitating effect on people’s lives, both for patients and their families who can be left feeling utterly helpless in the wake of their loved one’s addiction.

“Gaming disorder is not a mental illness to be taken lightly,” she said. “We are talking about instances where someone may spend up to 12 hours a day playing computer games and can end up becoming socially isolated and lose their job as a result.”

Here’s a look at the rise of gaming disorders, and how to spot the early warning signs.

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What is a gaming disorder?

The WHO defines a gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behaviour 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, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”.

As a result, it states, people who partake in gaming “should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour”.

According to The Telegraph, for a gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months”.

What are the early signs?

According to the UK Addiction Treatment Centres, there are several signs that parents, friends and family could watch out for that could point to a gaming addiction.

These include the gamer becoming “more introverted, argumentative, or showing big mood swings”, an unusual preoccupation with gaming, self-imposed isolation in order to guarantee uninterrupted play and feelings of irritability and restlessness when not playing games.

ITV News adds that other symptoms include “lying about the amount of time spent gaming, persistent headaches caused by too much screen time, ditching or avoiding other interests and hobbies, poorer performance at school or at work, diminished personal hygiene and poor diet”.

What are the stats?

Despite the stark warnings from the WHO, studies have suggested that true gaming disorders affect only a small proportion of people who engage in gaming activities.

According to GameQuitters, there are around 2.2 billion gamers worldwide, with only around 3-4% of them suffering from an addiction or disorder. 

However, the charity notes that this still amounts to “tens of millions” of addicts worldwide. 

Gaming disorders have only recently become diagnosable conditions so accurate statistics are hard to come by.

How is it treated?

It depends. The NHS is offering a gentle approach involving therapy and counselling in conjunction with the National Centre for Behavioural Addictions in London. The Guardian reports that patients referred to the programme will be able to attend in person or have an online consultation using Skype.

However, Sky News reports that gaming addictions have become a global issue with some countries “introducing fairly draconian measures to try to combat it”.

“South Korea has banned children under 16 from accessing online games between midnight and 6am, while in Japan players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games,” the broadcaster says. “In China, internet giant Tencent has also limited the hours that children can play its most popular games.”

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