Rise of the internet gaming addicts | Life | Life & Style

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But then he started using an online video game site called Twitch. He became so addicted that he missed a year of school.

His confidence plummeted to such a degree that he felt unable to leave the house. “I call it a silent addiction,” said Ms Parmar.

“Every moment he’s awake, he wants to be on a game. There is no outside world. It has become all-consuming.”

The mother-of-five added: “No one has taken it seriously. There isn’t any treatment as it’s so new and no one understands it. He was admitted to hospital for eight weeks because he was not functioning. When he came out, they said they had some medication for him. All it was was vitamin D tablets [to compensate for lack of sunlight] because he doesn’t go outside.”

Ms Parmar has campaigned for three years to get the NHS to recognise internet gaming as a treatable condition so those in her son’s situation can get the help they need free.

The NHS’s acceptance of her son’s case comes six months after the World Health Organisation listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition, described as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”.

Its decision was widely welcomed by experts in the field, including Dr Richard Graham, lead technology addiction specialist at the Nightingale Hospital in London.

He said: “It is significant because it creates the opportunity for more specialised services. It puts it on the map as something to take seriously.”

Dr Graham, who sees about 50 new cases of digital addiction each year, bases his diagnoses on whether the activity is affecting basic things such as sleep, eating, socialising and education.

Chantal Watt, a mother of two from Littlehampton, West Sussex, is only too familiar with these symptoms.

Her 14-year-old son, like many teenagers, was never very good at getting up in the morning but suddenly he began setting his alarm for 6am to allow himself two hours of gaming before school.

“He definitely was an addict,” says the marketing manager, 36, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Express.

“We got really worried. I carried out a lot of research and put together a five-page document then sat him down and went through all of my concerns and highlighted what he was doing and the implications of it. I think it shocked him enough to reduce his usage of it somewhat.”

She adds: “He’s played Xbox probably since he was eight or nine but we noticed the addiction really kicking in about a year ago. I think what triggered it was the type of game that he had got into.

“He started out playing games like Minecraft, where you can just pick it up and put it down at any time. But then he moved on to these MMOs [Massively Multiplayer Online games] and it became a lot more demanding because you have to be on the game for hours to achieve certain goals and if you don’t do that you’re letting down your team-mates.”

Her son also started gaming as soon as he got home from school.

“He was coming in and getting on his Xbox at half three and, if he could get away with it, staying on till nine. He’d come down for dinner late, eat as quickly as possible and run back upstairs.”

Suddenly he no longer had any interest in extracurricular activities such as karate and he stopped hanging out with his friends.

“It became an obsession to the point that when we were on holiday he’d be asking, ‘When are we going back?’”

His schoolwork began to suffer too.

“He was doing homework as quickly as possible. Sometimes I’d walk in and he’d be gaming with one hand and doing homework on a laptop with the other. We had a call after Christmas from the school saying they had noticed a decline in his behaviour and schoolwork.

“The last straw came a few months ago. My husband got up in the night, about one o’clock, and found him on the Xbox. That’s when I did a lot of research and kicked myself for letting it get as bad as it had.”

Chantal took the Xbox out of her son’s bedroom and put it in the lounge.

“He’s now allowed on it for only three hours a day during the week: half three to half six. And he’s stopped playing the multiplayer games that were so demanding on his time.”



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