Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 10 December 2019

Study to determine extent of gaming addiction in UAE

UAE's new gaming addiction clinic will follow Japan’s treatment model, say officials

The UAE will open its first dedicated gaming addiction clinic in Abu Dhabi next year. Patrick T Fallon / Bloomberg News
The UAE will open its first dedicated gaming addiction clinic in Abu Dhabi next year. Patrick T Fallon / Bloomberg News

A study to assess how widespread gaming addiction is among Emiratis and residents will be carried out ahead of the opening of a dedicated clinic in Abu Dhabi, officials said on Sunday.

Hamad Al Ghaferi, general director of the National Rehabilitation Centre, which will run the outpatient gaming addiction clinic, said two studies would help determine how many people suffer from the disease in the UAE.

“We don’t know the size of the problem in the UAE. They did a study in Japan and we will integrate [that] within our society,” he said.

“There are two types: the pilot study, which will give us an idea on what is happening [here] and, based on its results, we will conduct a long term comprehensive study to assess the problem over the years.”

He said the new clinic, set to open on the NRC premises next year, would be modelled after the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Centre in Kanagawa, Japan, which has treated more than 2,000 cases since it opened eight years ago.

The timeline for the studies and how they would be structured were not disclosed but Mr Al Ghaferi said the NRC would follow Japan’s example.

Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre in UAE. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, director general of the National Rehabilitation Centre in UAE. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

To measure the extent of the issue in Japan, the country’s National Centre for Addiction Services surveyed 9,000 people between the ages of 10 and 29.

“We developed a questionnaire and visited each participant’s home to answer the survey,” said Dr Susumu Higuchi, director of Japan’s National Centre for Addiction Services, at an event in Abu Dhabi aimed at developing methods to combat addiction, held in co-operation with the World Health Organisation.

“We asked questions like how many hours the participant spends on the internet, what kind of devices and apps are used, asked about gaming disorders’ symptoms.”

General symptoms for a gaming addict include weight gain, vitamin D deficiency, insomnia, stress, depression and mood swings.

But there are three main factors that, if met, are a strong indicator that someone has a gaming addiction, according to Prof John Saunders, from the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at Queensland University in Australia.

“Firstly, the person would have a sense of impaired control over their gaming; they have a difficulty in setting limits.

“Secondly, as time goes by, the gaming takes a greater priority in their life and the person excludes all other activities and responsibilities like work, school, and social relations.

“Thirdly: the person continues gaming despite experiencing the harm associated with it.”

Extreme addiction can lead to death, caused by chronic vitamin D deficiency or a thromboembolism, or blood clotting.

“This is due to inactivity from being seated online all the time, and not exercising at all,” said Prof Saunders.

The first gaming-related death was reported in the UK in 1999, and the second in South Korea in 2003.

Other deaths have been reported over the years but no exact figure is available because it is often difficult to associate the cause of death with gaming, Prof Saunders said.

The disease has also driven some addicts to suicide.

“They spend large amounts of money on gaming and are sometimes blamed by parents,” said Dr Higuchi.

“Even if they want to go to school and build relations with friends, they can’t do that and they suffer from depression.”

Dr Higuchi said a major barrier for clinics that treat gaming addiction is the lack of data.

“There is [also] no reliable tool to assess the magnitude of gaming disorders, so now we are developing that.”

After a patient is diagnosed with gaming addiction, a physical examination is conducted to evaluate the health issues presenting in the individual as a result of the disease.

Dr Al Ghaferi said the NRC would begin training specialists to spot and treat gaming addicts.

"We are starting the clinic next year, and we cannot start any project without training individuals,” he said.

At the Abu Dhabi clinic, the NRC plans to provide addicts with one on one sessions with a therapist, group sessions, or family healing.

"The family plays a big role," said Dr Al Ghafeli.

Typically, gaming addiction is treated with cognitive behaviour therapy, using methods similar to those adopted to cure other behavioural disorders including addiction to porn, gambling, sex, shopping, or exercising, said Dr Higuchi.

Medication can be prescribed if the addiction is associated with another disorder, such as Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“The most prevalent is ADHD and we use the medication for it while also treating the gaming addiction.”

Updated: November 10, 2019 09:20 PM

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