Inside the clinic helping addicted teens


Alex’s compulsive desire to play first-person shooters like Counter-Strike late into the night, has caused years of anguish for the family. He has also recently been diagnosed with autism.

He has been a patient at the NHS’s specialist clinic for treatment of addiction to video games, since earlier this year.

The National Centre for Gaming Disorders is the only treatment facility of its kind in the UK.

His parents referred him to the clinic themselves, but he hasn’t engaged with the treatment. Louise feels that although the treatment might not be working for her son, there has been an unexpected benefit for the rest of the family: “What is most helpful for us is talking to other parents whose children have the same gaming needs. Our support group meets once a fortnight on Zoom.”

Her husband Stephen adds: “More than anything else, I think the greatest thing is to realise that you’re not alone. There are loads of other people up and down the country, and all across the world, that are going through the same situation.


“For us as a couple, as a family, it’s been challenging in as much as it’s quite difficult to have interaction outside the house. And for the duration of people visiting, he’s just upstairs gaming all the time, shouting and cursing. For us sleeping has been a huge issue, so often we will sleep in separate rooms. I’ll have to have a fan on to drown out his game.”

BBC News has gained exclusive access to the clinic, which opened its doors nearly two years ago.

The (mostly teenage) patients’ compulsion to play is so extreme that it often leads to violent outbursts and confrontations with parents or carers. If access to games consoles or computers is denied, many of the people treated at the clinic have threatened to commit suicide. Their social interactions are almost always restricted to online or gaming activities.

Gaming Disorder is a controversial condition defined by the World Health Organization by three characteristics:

impaired control when gaming

prioritising gaming over other interests

escalation of gaming despite negative consequences

But this clinic – based in west London – is part of the the National Centre for Behavioural Addictions. It is well established in treating problems with gambling, but gaming is new territory for the staff, according to consultant clinical psychologist Dr Rebecca Lockwood.

Evidence gathered by Ofcom suggests that 62% of adults in the UK played video games during the pandemic. And a recent study by Oxford University’s Internet Institute concluded that playing video games is actually good for gamers’ wellbeing. Prof Andrew Przybylski, the institute’s director of research, believes games themselves might not be the problem.

“As far as I can tell, there’s no quantitative scientific evidence that there’s anything special about games that causes any form of psychological harm. There’s a wide range of activities or behaviours that you can do to excess, whether it’s eating or exercising, that actually have arguably much stronger evidence bases.

Another former patient of the clinic – Mike – realised he had an addiction with video games in his mid-20s. He played World of Warcraft up to 14 hours a day. It badly affected his relationship with his family, and interfered with his studies. He completed an eight-week course of therapy which gave him a new perspective on games and his life.

“I stopped playing video games as much. So, my relationship with my wife has been better. My relationship with my parents has improved. I’ve made steps towards fixing all the problems, but it was just this last push that I needed that got me on the right path.”

Mike hasn’t stopped playing games completely, but he says they now play a smaller part in his life: “It’s not like I consider video games to be bad. It’s just I do it in moderation.”

It is stories like Mike’s that give Stephen and Louise hope that one day their own son will resolve some of his issues.

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