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Addiction to gaming as harmful as drugs, says expert

bu Dhabi: Addiction to digital gaming is as harmful as drugs and it impacts physical and mental health of youngsters, experts at an addiction medicine conference said on Saturday.

Youngsters in the UAE spend up to 10 hours on their digital gadgets playing games and surfing the internet for new games.

However, experts said parents and teachers can play a key role in protecting these students from adverse effects of gaming and excessive internet usage.

'New menace'

Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Ahmad Al Kashef, head of research at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Abu Dhabi, said: “As per published studies, about 10-12 per cent students of the UAE spend up to 10 hours on gaming each day. It’s a new menace to society.” Youngsters are spending up to $6,000 on buying games each year in the UAE, he said, adding that when they get bored with a game, they buy another one online.

“They get less sleep, become irritable, feel tired, find hard to get up in the morning for school and miss classes. Even when they reach school, they doze off in the classroom and can’t pay attention,” he said.

Drug use and gaming cause symptoms of dependency [want to do all time], tolerance [keep increasing the dose/hours] and if you stop it you feel restless until you turn to it.

These behavioural changes make them rude to the family and become aggressive as well. If you snatch the game from them, they would feel very nervous and anxious, like you took away a drug from them. It’s all very much like drug addictions,” Dr Al Kashef told Gulf News on the sidelines of the 19th annual conference of the International Society of Addiction Medicine, which kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

More than 500 experts in addiction medicine, including psychiatrists, researchers and nurses from 40 countries, are attending the four-day conference, which focuses on developments in the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of substance abuse.

Gaming also includes online gambling, which is very common among mid-level, high school and college students as well as adults.

Parents’ key role

Parents and schools can play an important role in educating and guiding children on time management for sleep, studies, playing and digital gaming and dangers of gaming for long hours.

Parents should drive their children towards studies by awarding them a time for games — like "if you study and finish your work, you will get half an hour to play games", and educate them about harmful effects of gaming, he said.

Parents should keep a tab on their kids, who they mingle with and play.

Sometimes, they get in touch with some professionals who attract them towards gaming, Dr Al Kashef said. Game manufacturers build addictive qualities to the games to get youngsters hooked on.

The NRC, which is organising the conference, is the first rehab centre in the UAE, and currently operates from a custom-built facility in Shakhbout City with 169 patient beds.

Since 2002, it has provided treatment to 3,100 Emirati patients, including 60 women.