When a Sydney mum discovered her youngest son had been secretively earning money online she knew the hours spent in his bedroom had shifted from fun hobby to something more serious.
Her son, Adam*, has been battling with a serious gaming addiction for almost three years. He is just 15.
Cecille has chosen to speak to 9Honey about the impact her son’s addiction has had on him and her family in the hope it will bring him and others desperately needed treatment.
It started when Adam was in year five, when she and her husband allowed him to interact with the popular game Minecraft.
“We weren’t particularly worried about it because he found something that he’s really interested in,” she said.
She and her husband didn’t think anything of letting Adam play the computer game as he was an active, yet defiant child, with ADHD, who showed promise on the rugby field and cricket pitch.
However, over the years Adam shifted his attention to games such as Call of Duty and the divisive Fortnite, she saw a very concerning change in her child.
“I would have classified him as being addicted part way from year eight,” she said.
For Sydney teen Adam* his gaming addiction started with the seemingly carefree game Minecraft. (AAP)
“He can play 36 hours straight without an issue. His body clock is totally out, the stress that it has put on the family has been unbelievable.”
She said Adam even started earning money from gaming and set himself up a PayPal account without her knowledge to collect money from fellow gamers who would pay to watch him play or have him coach them.
Adam spends his days housebound. He no longer regularly attends school, managing just one day this term. She has been forced to call the police on him for being refusing to go and the Department of Education has sent him a warning letter about potentially failing Year 10.
Sadly, Adam and his family are not alone in their torment of gaming addiction.
Last week, 9Honeypublished an article on Sydney teen Logan Hodge and his gaming addiction.
Similar to this case, Logan has been housebound. He has been unable to attend school for two years. His mother, Britta, has set up a Facebook support group for parents. In the first few days after setting up the page it has more than 300 active members.
Our latest worried mum was among a number of parents who contacted 9Honey after reading about Logan’s compulsion.
Another mother said her son hasn’t been to school since he was 13. He is now 18.
“I have had the police called to my house over it and I have had many people judge me over letting him play. I could not get him to leave the house one year for Christmas and it ended in an argument with him putting holes in the wall,” said the mum who asked to remain anonymous.
Britta Hodge with her son Logan. (Supplied)
“I would always have to force him to leave the house we are lucky if he comes out of the house twice a year.”
Brian Russman, a cyber addictions specialist with The Cabin in Thailand, is all too familiar with gaming addiction.
“This is something that we’re seeing as a trend that is going to continue. It’s not going away,” Mr Russman, who also specialises in sex and substance addiction, said.
He said the patients he has treated have ranged in average age from 14 to 28, with the initial assessment being the same for patients presenting with alcohol and substance disorders. He has three of four patients with gaming disorder.
Earlier this year the World Health Organisation classified "gaming addiction" as a mental health condition.
When asked whether these extreme gaming addictions can be treated, Mr Russman was adamant they could be.
“What we do in those situations is some type of intervention,” he said.
“It’s a myth that someone has to hit rock bottom before we can intervene and get them into treatment. We would do a professional intervention or a peer led family intervention.”
He stresses, however, that treatment is tailored to each individual and involves an ongoing recovery progress with lifestyle intervention and change.
“The addiction treatment is so specific. Every scrap of research shows that there is a correlation between length of stay because of the chronic disorder. We have to treat it with a chronic model,” he said.
Sydney mum Cecille discovered her son Adam*'s gaming time had shift from playful to serious after she discovered he was secretly earning money online. (AAP)
In response to whether parenting styles and family environments are an avenue to gaming disorders, Mr Russman said they are. However, he said it’s not that simple.
“Families and parenting styles are part of the environment to contribute to self-medicating. But my opinion is that it’s genetic as well as an environmental disorder. “
He said there are individuals who are just “predisposed to addiction” like bipolar disorders, so for parents turning inwards to blame they resist.
“You can’t blame yourself. You can’t pause it (genetics) you can’t cure it,” he said.
Jill Sweatman, a Sydney-based neuroscience strategist in learning and development, has a different view.
She said when a parent contacts her the first thing she asks is how much screen time their child is given. Ms Sweatman said parents want her to give them a figure of what’s okay, however, it’s what children are looking at online is a concern. She has treated teenagers who go to school on a “daily dose of violence before breakfast”.
“What I see in the portfolio of children that I have, and parents I speak with, is a great lack of boundaries within the family home,” Ms Sweatman told 9Honey.
“This is allowing the child to do what they want and take control when a very immature brain can’t rationalise for themselves.”
*Not his real name.
Contact reporter Kate Kachor at firstname.lastname@example.org.