Cam Adair connects with Aurora Recovery Centre for accredited training in gaming addiction treatment.
It was everything. The focus of his life.
Cam Adair’s thirst for video games was so strong, he quit high school over it. He lost his girlfriend over it. His dad would drop him off to work at an internet café and, as soon as dad drove out of sight, Cam would jump on the bus and head back home. There was no job. It was all a scam.
All for video games.
Video Game Disorder is in the World Health Organization’s book, International Classification of Diseases, for a reason. In this digital age, where students — and adults, too, when you consider phones and televisions — often spend most of their waking hours on computers, people who have a propensity to spend too much time playing games at the detriment of relationships and careers might just find themselves looking for help.
In the worst cases, their symptoms can sound every bit as painful and harmful as any addict’s. Loss of relationships. Job problems. School problems. Families in agony, feeling helpless.
“My family was impacted heavily,” Adair says quietly. “Just intense worry, anxiety. My dad sleeping outside my room, scared I was going to sneak out the window and disappear. They tried everything to connect with me and I was unresponsive. You know, just watching your son deteriorate in their life, these things are very hard.”
Adair’s story is poignant, as head scratching and baffling as any addiction profile. Rife with shame, stigma and inexplicable behaviours, video game disorders are among the most common behavioural problems found in treatment centres.
“It’s a massive and very serious problem,” says Steve Low, President of Aurora Recovery Centre, near Winnipeg, Manitoba. “It’s rampant.”
Of course, not everyone who plays video games is an addict, just like those who drink or smoke pot are not necessarily overpowered by their substance of choice. There are tests and criteria available on many different websites to find out if your gaming is problematic or not.
But, in Cam Adair’s case, the problem was real and it ran deep. His obsession with gaming cost him friendships, a girlfriend, jobs.
Hitting bottom with his gaming addiction
In one of his darkest periods, he wrote a suicide note, preparing himself to take his pain to a final solution. Instead, he would break down and come clean. This led to a cessation of gaming for two years.
But, he would eventually succumb again and, in short order, was back into 16 hours a day of gaming. Finally, in 2011, he Googled, “How to quit playing video games.” He wrote a blog post about his angst with the lack of concrete solutions offered and, when the responses began to flow in, he was instantly connected with an entire world of people young and old trying to quit gaming.
Adair, now 32, launched Game Quitters in 2015, an online community which now has over 50,000 people who come to his website for resources and to pick through 300 or so videos on the issues around quitting and recovering, discovering or rediscovering life. When not immobilized by the pandemic, Adair tours the globe speaking to students, corporations and mental health professionals about what is healthy and unhealthy when it comes to video gaming, and how one can turn a burden into a springboard to a new life.
Game Quitters went next level in 2020 when Cam Adair and internationally-acclaimed psychologist Dr. Jay H. Berk Ph.D. launched Intenta, an accredited training program for mental health professionals on problematic and disordered gaming.
This is where Aurora comes in.
Gaming Addiction Treatment at Aurora Recovery Centre
Aurora Recovery Centre is an established treatment centre, helping families find their way out of a plethora of mental health problems, addictions and disorders of all sorts.
Recognizing the urgency to be at the ready for the growing problem of problematic digital use, Aurora is proactively having five of their senior clinicians trained through Intenta as the centre does its part to offer current, leading-edge treatment and recovery for gaming addiction.
The statistics say the problem is not going away anytime soon. With people stuck in their homes during the COVID pandemic, the problem of gaming disorders is likely to be worsening.
One study showed how, “in a systematic review on the prevalence of 11 different types of addictions, it was estimated that approximately 10 percent of adults with internet addiction may experience another concurrent problematic behavior or substance use (e.g. alcohol use or dependence or gambling addiction.”
Video game disorder falls under the category of process or behavioral addictions. Though these problems are not always as obvious as substance use addictions, which have clear negative consequences and often require a detox process, the fact is when a habit becomes an obligation, it can be every bit as debilitating as a substance use. Gamers who lose self-control of their screen time endure consequences and painful mental symptoms in much the same way that those with sex and love, substance use, gambling or food addiction suffer. Guilt. Shame. Low self-worth.
Yet, they cannot stop.
Gaming Addiction: Not just for young people
This is not just a young person’s problem. At least 65 percent of American adults play video games, according to statistics from the Entertainment Software Association, a key voice for the $43 billion industry. Two thirds of homes in the U.S. have at least one video game player.
In Canada, the United Kingdom, United States and Germany, 86 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24, and more than 65 percent of all adults, have recently played online video games, according to researchers from the American Psychiatric Association.
As games themselves become more and more realistic, exciting and interactive, it only makes sense that the potential for problematic gaming is increasing as well. E-sports tournaments often include hundreds of thousands of players at a time.
With requests for help becoming louder and louder, Aurora is rolling up its sleeves on the front lines with solutions. The intensive Intenta training gives Aurora staff insight into the psychology of gamers, helping them screen for problematic overuse of digital sources. Peer-reviewed scientific research and detailed case studies prepare staff to detect and explore what is often a quietly held or misunderstood secret for many.
As Adair consults with treatment centres and psychologists on his journey, he says what he is hearing is counselors who are better trained to recognize gaming problems can be of great benefit to clients, many of whom have not divulged their gaming history.
“It is amazing how many of them are gamers and may not have disclosed it. Often, they won’t disclose it because they are holding onto gaming being their one safe refuge when they get home. They’ll tell you about the drinking. They will tell you about the drugs. They’ll tell you about the gambling. But, they will keep gaming in their back pocket,” says Adair.
“Ultimately, addiction is addiction. Hard is hard. That is so important. That we can learn from each other. We can learn about behaviour. We can learn how to stay sober.”
By Jeff Vircoe