Gambling addiction has sparked some controversy since the World Health Organization officially classified it as a mental health disorder in 2018, despite being a rare condition. Since then, the National Center for Gaming Disorders has opened its doors to patients in the UK. It mainly deals with teenagers, whose families find it difficult to persuade them to leave their computers, put down their controllers, and spend time with them. While most of them have been reluctant to receive treatment, BBC News reports that the clinic appears to be helping them and their families.
Stephen and Louise told UK media that they referred their (recently diagnosed) 16-year-old autistic son Alex to the only NHS clinic in the country that treats the disease. This was due to his compulsive Counter-Strike sessions, which had a negative impact on the family. Although Alex did not commit to the treatment, his mother said her reluctance to do so gave them the benefit of forming a Zoom support group with parents of children who have similar play needs. His father said he was relieved to know that they are not alone.
Dr Rebecca Lockwood, a consultant clinical psychologist at the National Center for Gaming Disorders, told the BBC that the west London-based clinic is well established in treating gambling problems, but gambling is new territory for its staff. However, she believes the video chat therapy sessions have benefited her patients, especially since most of them are spread across England and Wales. She praises video chat treatments, saying they “allow us to engage with people who might be quite reluctant to come to the clinic, as their motivation for engagement and treatment can be quite low.”
Although 89% of the clinic’s patients are men, Becky Harris, director and family therapist, says she has treated a wide range of age groups – with more than 300 patients to date. She said treatment begins at age 13, but they have also received referrals from families of patients aged eight to over 60.
One of those patients was Mike, whose addiction to World of Warcraft in his mid-twenties severely compromised his relationship with his parents, wife, and college education. After going through eight weeks of therapy, he said these aspects of his life had improved as he took steps to address these issues. He learned that video games should only be played in moderation.
Moderation was the principle Harris was keen to stress, saying the clinic does not have a vendetta against video games in general. “We completely accept that for a lot of people gambling is a really positive thing in their life,” she says. “We’re really talking about that small percentage of people who have a huge problem with it, and it really affects their quality of life and their ability to interact, and their ability to function.”
That being said, the video games themselves are not the problem, but rather the pre-existing psychological conditions that are causing the addictive behavior. This line of thinking can help families move beyond banning video games altogether, but teach their children that play is a good activity to play in moderation.
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