Last night, after delivering my talk, One More Level: Video Gaming Addiction, I was presented with a question from a parent that I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer. It was an excellent question and I did my best to give an explanation I thought may be close to the truth.
The question was, “Like the straw that broke the camel’s back, what was the defining moment that made your son finally agree to fully detox from video gaming?”
I answered that it was likely something that my son’s older brother had said or done, as he was a good influence and they were living together when my youngest finally acknowledged that he had an addiction to video gaming. I also suggested that perhaps my son realized that his future with the company he was working for hinged on him finally quitting playing. I then made a mental note to ask my son, Jake this same question, so I wouldn’t be caught off guard again, and to be sure I answered it correctly.
This morning I sent a text to Jake explaining what had transpired during the Q & A period at my talk and queried him on what his defining moment actually was. His reply was, “Oh that’s an easy one, it was at Nick’s apartment that summer. I had another relapse for a short time during the summer, but in terms of what really hit me and pushed me to change, it was Nick getting angry at me, well and truly angry, when he came home to find me playing a multiplayer online game (Nick is his older brother, by four years). What upset him was that I chose a time when I knew he would be out for the night to play (he came home unexpectedly), showing that it was to me still something I was trying to hide, and thus didn’t understand my own addiction problems. What broke me was when he then explained how he looked at me, what he thought of me, and who I was to him – all of the good stuff. It was a counter to all my own internal self-esteem problems and the validation I’d been looking for from him. He then took me to the mirror by the back door beside the kitchen and made me look at myself. He made me say “I’m a success.” It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It took me a long time staring at that mirror with him silently beside me. Then he held me as I cried and let me crawl into bed with him and continue crying while holding onto him. That was the point where I went from “I don’t have a problem” to “I have an addiction” in my head. Or rather, “gaming isn’t the problem” to “I have an addiction.”
Needless to say, reading this brought me to tears. Jake says he still tears up every time he thinks about it. I do recall the day after this moment between my two sons occurred. I was visiting Nick the next morning, and he told me that he’d caught Jake gaming again and finally gave him a piece of his mind. He said that Jake was very upset, but he didn’t provide any more details. As he was speaking I could see into his bedroom and commented that his pillow looked very wet. I asked if he was feeling well and did he have a fever last night. He said no he wasn’t sick, and that although he had gotten angry with Jake, he wasn’t a cold-hearted person. He let Jake sleep with him and consoled him through his tears, afterwards.
I also recall the day that Jake told me that he had been fully detoxed from gaming for thirty days, during that summer, and was committed to a ninety-day detox to see how he’d feel. He didn’t mention the blowup between he and his brother, and I acted as though I knew nothing about it. After more than two years of struggling and supporting Jake through many relapses, I was so pleased that he’d stopped denying his addiction and was finally facing it, head on. I was so exhausted and feeling so desperate by that time, that I don’t really think it mattered much to me as to why Jake came to terms with himself. I was just grateful that he did.
I am not at all surprised that it was Jake’s older brother, Nick who saved the day. He’s been the best brother since the day that Jake was born. He has always cared for and loved Jake, unlike any other siblings I’ve ever witnessed or heard of. They have had and still have an amazing bond. It was Nick who allowed Jake to move into his apartment with him for three summers, so that Jake could take a job in Toronto with a software company during his university years. Nick understood that Jake had an addiction to gaming, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get him to recognize it. And he succeeded. Today, Jake is fourteen months gaming-free.
Quitting gaming is possible; making the decision to do so is the biggest hurdle of a gaming addict. If your child’s video gaming habits appear to be problematic, there are harm reduction strategies that can be implemented to control their impulse to play endless hours of video games, until they are willing to admit it’s an issue. Some of these strategies can also be used for prevention.
Routers and Wi-Fi can be removed during certain periods of time in the day and through the night. A gamer cannot self-regulate once they are in the addiction phase.
Gamers can have shorter periods of gaming time introduced to help the gamer slowly withdraw. Two hours maximum is best. Other responsibilities should be implemented, like grooming, eating, household chores, homework, and time with friends and family before gaming is allowed.
Timers can be set so that gamers know when to stop playing. Another activity should be planned and followed, so that the gamer has something to look forward to at the end of the video game.
Cardiovascular exercise should be encouraged so that there is something to replace that high dopamine rush in the brain that gaming provides.
Proper sleep and a healthy diet is necessary to heal the brain.
Therapy for depression and anxiety, as a gamer appears to be suffering through this gradual withdrawal, is instrumental. Support for family members is essential.
Constant monitoring is needed to provide the gamer the support they need.
A visit to a health practitioner for a full assessment and diagnosis is recommended if you believe there may be an addiction.
All of these strategies were put in place for Jake, and he was fully supported by his family. But gaming is everywhere, it’s a common recreational activity amongst peers. Jake had made many online friends through gaming. So, to stop felt like an enormously difficult and, at times, impossible task for him. We, as the outsiders can see what needs to happen, but it is ultimately up to the addict to realize and admit to their problem. It takes herculean patience, understanding, and perseverance waiting for this acknowledgement. It can feel hopeless at times. But we can never give up on the addict. Love and support them. Have rules and follow through with consequences to build a safety net for them. Approach this time with empathy and understanding. A lot can be accomplished to re-engage the gamer back into a healthier lifestyle with harm reduction. They may not be willing to completely stop gaming until they see it clearly as being a problem. But don’t give up or give in. Over time they may see the light and a way out of their addiction darkness, as my son did.
*Note* My talk, One More Level: Video Addiction is a one-hour presentation of my lived experience, research and data, signs and symptoms, recommendation for prevention, and treatment resources. I am available to speak in schools and other associate groups. Please contact me if you are interested at ElaineUskoski@gmail.com