9 signs your child might suffer from a gaming disorder

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Gaming addiction is serious.

Like any other addiction it can have adverse affects on a sufferer’s health and wellbeing.

Director of the Drug and Alcohol program at Wesley Hospital Kogarah, Dr John Saunders, also a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Expert Advisory Panel on Substance Abuse, has a stern warning to gamers and parents in the lead-up to Christmas.

Saunders says a gaming disorder and drug and alcohol addiction are more similar than people realise, and that as many as 5% of young people are addicted to gaming.

“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,” Saunders said, speaking at the WHO Conference on Behavioural Addiction in China.

“Higher among men, 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.”

Saunders says a gaming disorder can also cause social and work or academic problems.

“There are some people whose lives are so dominated by online gaming, they can game for 10 or more hours a day,” he says.

“This often causes sleep deprivation, mood changes, compromised physical health, a withdrawal from social activities, and poorer performance at work or school.”

Saunders currently treats patients suffering from such addictions with a three-week inpatient detox that uses 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% of patients also needed to be treated for underlying mental health disorders, such as social phobia, and medication is considered in some instances,” he says.

Before you buy video games this Christmas, Saunders says people should think about these warnings.

Here are nine signs and symptoms of gaming disorder, according to the expert:

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. Gaming disorder often begins in childhood but becomes excessive in adolescence, as people spend more and more time in the virtual world.

Loss of interest in work or studies

Gaming can consume a person’s life to such an extent that it takes precedence over study or work. It is common for young people with gaming disorder to lose interest in their studies, skip days at school, and even drop out prematurely.

Violence or aggression when unable to play

Changes in mood are common for someone with gaming disorder if they are unable to play, or in the event that their parent confiscates their game or restricts their gaming time. The gamer may become moody, irritable, act aggressively or even become violent.

Body weight changes

When the addiction becomes severe, a person’s health and diet deteriorates. 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. Other gamers may become overweight from the lack of exercise and the increase in high-calorie foods, soft drinks or stimulant drinks.

Change in sleeping patterns

Day and night patterns often reverse. A gaming addict will play video games late into the night and, as a result, sleep during the day. This will make them irritable and moody as they try to meet the demands of work or study on their clock, and low in 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. Video games often involve three to eight players, so while an addict may gain virtual friends, they can lose friends in the real world.

Preoccupied with thoughts about gaming

Most 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.

Poor hygiene

A person with a video game addiction may not take the time to properly care for themselves. They may stop showering, brushing their teeth or washing their clothes regularly.

Inability to stop playing

Like alcohol or drugs, a person with a gaming addiction will have impaired control over gaming. They will not be able to stop playing despite the negative consequences.

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