I am often asked, by parents, how my son stopped his video gaming addiction and has remained gaming sober for four years.
This is not an easy question to answer, because I know these parents are looking for the easy-to-access secret to breaking gaming addiction. It’s like asking someone how they lost weight and maintained their weight loss. There are so many approaches, so many diet plans, each one works differently for each person, and most people want the fastest and easiest method for getting thin.
But just as in shedding pounds, the message in breaking through with addiction is that it takes a ton of commitment, hard work, and time to get to sobriety. And even once you get to this point, relapse can still occur.
Video games are immersive, highly stimulating, a great escape from life’s stresses, and difficult to resist. And every kid seems to be playing them, so it’s also a good social outlet. But playing in excess, video games can be as addictive as drugs or alcohol. And this is not an easy habit to break.
In my son’s case, it was a grueling 2 1/2 years of denial, detox, relapse, detox, relapse, many tears and fears, and a ton of challenging work.
It began in 2014, before most clinicians were even talking about this addiction, so we had no addiction counseling to tap into, and my son had enormous issues with anxiety and depression. We muddled through his addiction the best we could with any support we could find. In his fragile emotional state, I feared he’d commit suicide for much of that time. That fear kept me awake many nights.
It was awful, it was lonely, it was terrifying.
What I focused on was my son and not the addiction. I knew that he didn’t choose to stop thriving, to give up much of his life for gaming. I knew there were underlying emotional issues behind his compulsion to game, so I approached from a place of compassion.
I worked my butt off as a mom, and even gave my son permission to hate me for the rest of his life, but I was determined to save him from himself. I searched the internet for any research and information on gaming addiction that might help. Although my son was an adult, I rolled up my sleeves, parented with determination, set up strict rules, and followed through with consequences.
At times, I had to put my career on hold, I had to monitor my son 24/7, and I did a whole lot of hand holding through the detoxes. I did eventually get him into counseling for his anxiety and depression but still the addiction wasn’t addressed.
It was my son who finally realized that his addiction was stopping him from truly living, to meeting his potential, and he was risking losing his future, the one he’d had dreams of as a younger child. I learned that it’s never a problem until it’s a problem for the addict.
I wish I could tell parents that there is one cookie cutter method to get through this, but each child, each family situation is different.
What I can say is to find as much support and as many allies as you can through this journey, and stay strong for your child. Look for research, books, a therapist or coach, a support group, and ask family and friends to help.
My own journey, having no gaming addiction therapist available for my son, is the reason I studied and then became a family coach, as well as a brand ambassador for Intenta Clinical Training for Gaming Disorder. There is a huge gap in help available and it’s important to provide up-to-date training for therapists to provide more help for this growing addiction.
I continued to advocate and educate through my public speaking and my writing.
My hope is that in reading my books, Seeing Through the Cracks and Cyber Sober; A Caregiver’s Guide to Video Gaming Addiction, hearing me speak, and/or reading my blogs, a parent might find a glimmer of inspiration and hope for their own personal journey.
I am available for online coaching for both parents and their gaming addicted child and provide a free 15 minute consultation to see if coaching is a good fit for your family.