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Gaming addiction: An upcoming teenage disease

Dr Kedar Padte

In recent press headlines and article by WHO ‘gaming addiction’ has been listed under mental disorder. In other words it falls under the same category as schizophrenia, mania and anxiety neurosis!

Gaming addiction is now a psychiatric condition classified by World Health Organisation (WHO) in its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Member of WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse, Vladimir Poznyak provided signs that one must look for in order to diagnose and isolate gaming addiction behaviour.

First, the gaming behaviour takes precedence over other activities to the extent that other activities are taken to the periphery.

Second, there is impaired control of these behaviours. Even when negative consequences occur, this behavior continues or escalates. According to the assembly an addictive behaviour would be persistent or recurrent and has sufficient severity.

Third, the condition leads to distress and impairs one’s personal, family, social, educational or occupational functioning. Some symptoms pointed out by Poznyak include disturbed sleep patterns like diet problems and a deficiency in the physical activity.

Rahul (name changed), a 14-year-old from east Bengaluru would be least bothered about what his parents wanted him to do. He would lock himself in a room and get hooked to the digital world, playing games for over 10 hours a day. Bored of one game in a couple of months, he would quickly switch to another. Today, Rahul is undergoing counselling and therapy at the Services for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) Clinic at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans).

While the World Health Organisation has declared gaming addiction a mental disorder, Nimhans sees not less than six children (aged 14 – 20 years) a week, seeking help at SHUT.

WHO’s definition of
behaviour pattern:

When an individual gives priority to gaming over essential daily activities.

A person has little or no control over gaming time.

A person continues gaming despite consequences.

Not every gamer is an addict:

WHO says the disorder affects a miniscule percentage of gamers.

It is addiction when it affects personal, family, social other areas of functioning.

Should be evident for at least one year for a person to be diagnosed with disorder.

Look out for 5 Cs:

Craving – Continuously craving to indulge in gaming.

Control – There is no control and the person finds it impossible to stop.

Coping – Using gaming as a way to cope with personal or social issues.

Compulsion – Unable to take interest in any other activity.

Consequences – Continues despite poor performance in academics, physical problems such as eye strains and neck problems, and/or psychological issues such as irritability and anger outbursts.

Do’s and Don’ts for parents:

Look for signs such as sleep deprivation and dips in academic performance.

Don’t abruptly block access; talk and find out why the child is so interested in gaming.

Seek professional help including counselling.

Has high chances or relapse, so show patience.

What the WHO move means:

It will be viewed a serious health condition that needs uniformity of diagnosis and treatment.

Will create more awareness.

Will help government design strategies.

De-addiction centres: AIIMS, Delhi; AFMC, Pune and Nimhans, Bengaluru

The recognition of obsessive gaming as a mental health condition will bring more awareness in diagnosing and treating the condition that affects a significant percentage of young adults. But not every gamer is addict. An addict spends anything between 10 to 14 hours a day playing.

The number of people addicted to gaming is difficult to assess, while almost 2 per cent to 3 per cent teenagers may be true addicts, a whopping 10 per cent of kids in metropolitan cities may be sitting on the fence.

There are various reasons for addiction:

Good side is that it is fun, occupying, exciting, fascinating and an enjoyable experience, like watching a nice movie.

But the dark side is too vast. Most addicts are trying to escape true life situations. Some have been sexually assaulted and are trying to run away from life. Boys are more addicted than girls.

Group gaming is more addicting as it produces an ‘inner circle’ of otherwise unknown friends. Stopping the gaming can produce anger, violence, depression or even suicide.

Losses are in terms of loss of job, education, finances, relationship and health.

How do we help our kids?

Make the child aware of the real world and exciting things in life other than the game.

Talk to your child and spend time with him/her. Be a friend and not a distant parent.

Know the game your child indulges in most. Some can be dangerous.

Limit (not cut off) time allowed to play the game.

Watch for the signs of addiction.

Side effects of gaming:

Eyesight, headaches, depression, suicide, impotency, diabetes, hypertension and obesity, besides the social risks already explained.

Treatment:

Get an action plan: The child has to be monitored minute to minute, if not hourly.

Create a new schedule, change timing.

Involve compelling outdoor activities.

Visit a rehabilitation centre and get individual or group therapy.

Ensure a stay away programme as relapse is possible.

What was introduced in kids’ lives to keep them entertained is now gradually becoming a disease. While statistics show few addictions, we may be sitting on the tip of an iceberg, the size of which may be frightening.

It is time we wake up to this virus before it takes epidemic proportions, the vaccine for which is ‘awareness’.

(Columnist is a well-known gynaecologist practising in Panaji. Send in your queries to padte.kedar@gmail.com)

 

 

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