Latest developments in causes and treatments



How Does the United Kingdom Handle Gaming Addiction?

Healthcare in the United Kingdom is dominated by the National Health Service (NHS), which is able to provide care and collect statistics with huge sample sizes, far more than could typically be assembled in studies in the United States. With the requirement to provide care to all, the NHS also has an obligation to provide care for all. And that includes care for gambling addiction and gaming addiction.

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist, Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, set up the first National Problem Clinic for the NHS in 2008 to treat patients with gambling addiction. There are now 15 such centers across the U.K. treating 3,000 patients a year, according to a deep dive on the subject by Tim Lewis, a writer for The Observer magazine, published by The Guardian.

Lewis interviews Dr. Bowden-Jones about the gambling disorder clinic:

It took years for people to take pathological gambling seriously. When I started talking about setting up a clinic, people were literally just looking at me blankly going, “Why? What are you talking about?” It’s only been in the last five or six years that gambling disorder has had a significant recognition as a life-destroying disastrous illness. It is a proper addiction with genetic heritability.

In 2019, Dr. Bowden-Jones set up the first program for gaming addiction for the NHS. The National Centre for Gaming Disorders (NCGD) began with a couple dozen referrals and funding to treat up to 50 patients. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns provided an ideal environment for gaming addiction to grow unchecked.

Four years later, the NCGD had handled more than a thousand referrals — twenty times its original budgeting. According to Lewis, 88% of those aged 16-24 in the U.K. play video games, and 5% of them play more than 20 hours/week. These statistics omit children under 16 years of age who make up a large percentage of the patients treated at the NCGD, and children under the age of 13 who cannot be served at the NCGD and are treated by their pediatricians. Dr. Bowden-Jones told Lewis:

The force with which gaming disorder has presented itself, via our patients, our young patients, was quite overwhelming at times. And unexpected.

The NCGD “offers assessment and therapeutic based treatment with CBT sessions focused on controlled levels of gaming and increasing other activities,” according to the center’s website. The center offers services for addicted gamers, their families, and caretakers. The pandemic forced the NCGD to switch to online delivery of most of its services. For both gambling and gaming addiction, the format for therapy is videoconferencing, says Dr. Bowden-Jones.

In a very interesting twist on addiction treatment, the NCGD does not strive for abstinence as a cornerstone of recovery. “Removing [access] meant that they really had lost everything,” Dr. Bowden-Jones tells Smith. Perhaps due to their youth and still-developing brains, children bond with gaming and are inconsolable and even suicidal when access is shut off completely. Smith shares stories of several kids who go to extreme lengths to regain access to their games.

Instead of abstinence, the NCGD tries to move the needle, reducing the amount of time a patient spends gaming and increasing the amount of time spent on social activities and physical fitness. The NCGD encourages family participation, especially with younger patients, and provides family and caregiver therapy. They provide a training workshop for medical professionals to assist with assessing and treating gaming addiction. And the NCGD also provides a curated Parent Support Group where parents and caregivers share advice with each other.

A recent study from Malaysia examined teenage “Digital Addiction” (DA), including smartphone addiction, internet addiction, gaming addiction, social media addiction, and the impact DA has on the physical health of 12-18-year-olds. The data was collected through focus group discussions involving one team of seven medical professionals and another team of five professional gaming experts.

The Malaysian research team also conducted a literature search on DA with scholarly papers published from 2016 to 2021. They reduced the papers reviewed from 341 articles to 38 that focused solely on DA. The article has an interesting discussion of the mechanism by which video games hook adolescents. It concludes with this list of the physical problems caused by excessive gaming:

  • Obesity
  • Back pain and neck pain
  • Orthopedic/joint muscle problems
  • Eyesight problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Physical inactivity

The Malaysian study did not address the mental health problems associated with DA, only the physical problems. Like so many other sources, it did not provide any information on the recovery rate for various recommended interventions. Neither does the NCGD provide any data on whether its treatments for gaming addiction work, or how they work. The NCGD does not mention any pharmaceutical interventions it uses. It would be fascinating to see a study on GLP-1 drugs used to treat type 2 diabetic adolescents, and whether the drugs also put a damper on excessive gaming. We look forward to reporting on that study at AddictionNews as soon as one appears.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published July 11, 2024.


“Totally wired: why are so many young people addicted to video games?” The Guardian, July 7, 2024.

“Digital Addiction: Systematic Review of Computer Game Addiction Impact on Adolescent Physical Health,” Electronics, April 2021.

Image Copyright: samwordley.


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