Official Recognition of Gaming Disorder Spurs Treatment Initiatives Worldwide

Jun 14, 2019 | Gaming Addiction Treatment

Since the World Health Organisation added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases list, it seems many in the global behavioural health community have begun to take it more seriously. This has resulted in a number of gaming addiction rehabs opening in various countries around the world, each with a different approach to treatment.

The WHO defines gaming disorder as “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.” These consequences of problem video-gaming can include sleep deprivation, malnutrition, agoraphobia, depression, irritability, physical aggression and academic failure. So, when countless kids around the world are showing worrying signs of addiction to games like Fortnite, what’s the right solution?


China Worries About a Resurgence of Electroshock Therapy


China is seeing a new wave of gaming addiction treatment, but many are still sceptical considering the inhumane treatment techniques young clients suffered in the past. Infamous for its boot camp-style rehabs, China was shocked when it was revealed in 2009 that an esteemed doctor had been treating internet-addicted children with high levels of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The doctor, Yang Yongxin, had received prestigious government funding and was widely respected among China’s mental health community. He ran a four-month internet addiction treatment clinic that treated over 3,000 youths – until it came out that he had been using electroshock in doses of over 10 milliamperes without anaesthesia or muscle relaxants, and administering psychotropic drugs.

Needless to say, the official acknowledgment of gaming disorder has many worried that the country could see a resurrection of such practices.


A New Wave of Gaming Disorder Treatment


Since that discovery, the Chinese Ministry of Health has forbidden the use of ECT for treating screen addiction, deeming it unsafe. Different methods are coming into use, such as a new gaming addiction clinic at Huilongguan psychiatric hospital in Beijing. The clinic takes a softer approach to reducing screen time, replacing gaming with more social hobbies like karaoke and real-life play. It also invites parents to stay with their children while they’re under the clinic’s care.

But psychologists in the region are still concerned. Professor of Psychology at the University of Hong Kong Celia Cheng warns that while the move will increase awareness, it’s not likely to have an impact on the main culprit: the gaming and esports industry. Cheng led a study of Hong Kong primary school students that showed they spent an average of eight hours per week playing video games, and that one in ten students was at risk for gaming addiction, if not addicted already.


The UK Opens First NHS-Funded Gaming Addiction Treatment Centre


China isn’t the only country heeding the call. In London, the UK’s National Health Services (NHS) is also funding a new internet addiction treatment programme, administered by the Central and North West London NHS foundation trust. It’s the first government-funded clinic of its kind.

The centre will start by focusing on gaming disorder, which it sees as the most pressing need as it’s causing young people to miss shocking amounts of school. Says its founder, psychiatrist Henrietta Bowden-Jones, “Gaming disorder is finally getting the attention it deserves. The distress and harm it can cause is extreme and I feel a moral duty on behalf of the NHS to provide the evidence-based treatment these young people and their families need.”

However, some experts express doubts about its proposed efficacy, as there’s currently a lack of tools to measure severity and treatment outcomes for this relatively new disorder. The centre still faces limitations due to budget restrictions.


In the US, Gaming Addiction is Rampant as Ever


Gaming addiction treatment centres are also popping up in the United States, where experts say the disorder currently affects up to 8 percent of the population. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, says: “We’re all mildly addicted. I think that’s obvious to see in our behaviour. It becomes a public health concern, obviously, as health is influenced by the behaviour.” New treatment programming is being drafted in Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

In a society rife with depression and anxiety disorders, gaming is often used as a way to self-medicate – much like drug and alcohol abuse. As a result, what starts as recreational gaming often ramps up into addiction, resulting in horrible physical and mental health consequences.


The Edge Offers a New Perspective on Gaming Recovery


On the other end of the spectrum, another approach to gaming addiction treatment is that of residential destination rehab: programming administered in a retreat-like setting that unplugs gamers from virtual reality and immerses them in nature, sports and genuine relationships.

The Edge Rehab in Thailand has developed a gamer-centric addiction treatment programme for young men, designed in collaboration with Game Quitters, the world’s largest online community of gaming addicts. The programme incorporates plenty of real-world experiential therapy via fitness and wilderness activities. Says counsellor Steve Jenkins, “Self esteem is usually one of the first things to go when one is going through (addiction) or ­whatever their issue happens to be. Here they are working together as a team. And there is positive peer pressure – they are pushing together; they tend to be a very cohesive group.”

He explains the calming effects and therapeutic benefits of intensive exercise: “The fortunate side product of physical activity is it makes young men more manageable as they are all very tired after, and it helps them to be more open to the ­therapeutic side of the programme – they are then able to relax and listen to what’s going on.”

If your son is struggling with gaming addiction, The Edge can help him overcome it and unlock his full academic and social potential. To learn how we can help your son become a game quitter, talk to us today.


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