Stress and boredom as the coronavirus pandemic continues are leading to a surge in gaming addiction among young people, and parents and teachers need to be on the lookout for the warning signs, say psychiatrists at Paracelsus Recovery.
Referrals for young people who have taken to gaming to cope with being cooped up at home or worrying about exams after missing months of school have doubled, with up to 10 percent of young gamers estimated to be affected.
The UAE consistently ranks amongst the world’s top 100 gaming markets based on revenue source, according to Newzoo, 2019. Last year the National Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi announced the launch of a special outpatient clinic to treat gaming addicts.
Young people and their parents may well believe that spending hours a day on gaming at the expense of other activities is harmless, and that they will be able to drop the habit once lockdowns and the pandemic become things of the past. But that’s not always going to be the case, says Dr Marta Ra, the clinic’s CEO.
“Gaming addiction is now widely recognised as a potentially serious condition and we treat a growing number of clients, mainly young adults, who have lost control of their online habits,” she says. “Right now, many young people do not have a full social life because of coronavirus, so they see gaming as a nice way to occupy themselves and to connect with other people. In fact, their gaming habits are intruding on the rest of their lives and would meet the clinical criteria for addiction.”
In 2018, the World Health Organisation added gaming disorder to its medical reference book, the International Classification of Diseases. Research suggests that even before coronavirus, the prevalence of gaming disorder was rising around the globe, with a tendency for more boys and young men to be affected.
Video game manufacturers insist that gaming is a healthy activity, since it allows social connection during the pandemic while ensuring physical distancing. But mental health experts point to these signs that indicate gaming has becoming an addiction:
- Constantly thinking about or wanting to play the game
- Feeling irritable and restless (fidgety) when not playing
- Under-reporting or lying about how much time you have spent playing or playing in secret (such as in the middle of the night)
- Tiredness, headaches or hand pain from too much screen time and use of controllers
- Not wanting to pay attention to other essentials like personal hygiene or eating
- Not seeing friends as often or doing other things you used to enjoy doing as all your time is spent gaming
- Not wanting to go to school or college so that you can game
So what can parents and teachers do? Dr Ra advises them to be on the lookout for the signs of addiction.
“If gaming is causing problems in other areas of people’s lives, it may be time to seek help,” says Dr Ra.
Paracelsus Recovery is a mental health clinic based in London and Zurich mental health service.