Playing video games for fun is typically a harmless activity and popular pastime among young people but in more recent years gaming addiction has become a growing problem, particularly in boys and young men.
Yes We Can Youth Clinics (YWCC)in Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands specialises in treating young people aged 13–25 from all over the world with addictions and complex behavioural problems. The clinic, which treats over 600 fellows (clients) a year, reports that gaming addiction has now become the second most common reason why young people are being admitted for the 10-week residential treatment programme – the first being marijuana addiction.
“Gaming gives the same dopamine rush as alcohol or drugs; all these addictions bring further issues like mental health and behavioural problems and all are as dangerous as each other,” said Jan Willem Poot, founder of YWCC.
“What we see is kids who are trying to escape from their lives, to get out of them and feel differently, so they turn to alcohol, drugs, self-harming, locking themselves in gaming – they can all seem like the perfect escape.”
Jan Willem says often when gamers first enter the clinic, it’s like they are in “another world”.
‘They spend their days playing games or thinking about playing games. Young people who were consecutively playing games for up to 15 hours a day arrive at the clinic, and it’s like they are not in our world; we take them on hikes, and they are jumping over things that are not there.’
Online role-playing games (in which a player assumes the role of a fictional character and interacts with other players in a virtual world) are particularly luring for youngsters who are taken away into a fantasy world. Children addicted to gaming are usually ones with poor self-esteem and social problems. When playing in their fantasy world, they can become dominant and virtual life becomes more appealing than real life for them.
Victor started using gaming as an escape when he was 12 years old. Being bullied all through his school years and dealing with pressure from his parents, left Victor feeling isolated and alone and playing games helped him forget that feeling. This along with an illness which kept him off school for a long period of time, saw him slip into a gaming addiction. By the time he turned 19, games had taken over his life. He played for 13 hours a day, only stopping to eat and sleep.
“It didn’t matter what I played, as long as I was not alone and people accepted me, it was good enough,” he said. His seven-year addiction led him to be kicked out of school, lose his job, spend all his money on gaming, lose his girlfriend and even attempt suicide.
“Gaming was more important than talking to my girlfriend and I’d be really annoyed every time she sent me a message whilst I was playing. I began to ignore her and then dumped her via text message.”
Victor spent over €4300, his entire savings account, on gaming: “because I wanted everyone to like me, I bought a lot of things online; not just for myself but for others too.”
In the end, Victor’s mum gave him a choice, either attend Yes We Can Youth Clinics or leave home. Victor is now 21 and has been in recovery for over two years.
On Wednesday, 16 August, Yes We Can Youth Clinics opened its doors to its international facility and for the first time English-speaking fellows are able to attend this centre specifically designed for adolescents suffering from addictions and behavioural disorders.
The world-renowned treatment centre has a multidisciplinary team, all of whom speak English. Their counsellors are experts by experience which allows fellows to relate and connect to them uniquely. The international clinic is housed in a renovated and specially converted 14th-century castle set on 17 acres on the Groenedael estate. With 24 beds for young men and women, YWCYC offers an intensive 10-week English-speaking treatment programme. Seven days a week, fellows (clients) follow a structured schedule starting at 6.30am until lights-out at 11pm; receive 40 hours of intensive one-on-one therapy, 200 hours of group therapy, 270 hours of (sports) activities and 100 hours of education.
There is no access to the internet, phones, tablets, TV or any other device that can distract youngsters from recovery. Halfway through the programme at five weeks, family members are requested to attend a five-day family programme designed to motivate parents and carers to take responsibility for their changed role and to commit to a permanent recovery programme for both themselves and their fellows. The organisation also offers comprehensive residential secondary and tertiary aftercare.