In a major breakthrough, a panel was created in the capital today to develop an internationally agreed upon screening test that will identify gaming addiction.
The panel will consist of medical experts from across the world, including the UAE’s own rehabilitation centre, the National Rehabilitation Centre, and the World Health Organisation.
The tool will be developed within the next two years, it was disclosed.
“Gaming addiction has only been endorsed globally as a medical condition this May, so we are yet to have internationally agreed upon screening and treatment tools. This meeting has therefore been groundbreaking in helping the global medical community come together to develop the necessary tools to identify and treat this condition,” Susumu Higuchi, a global pioneer and director of Japan’s National Centre for Addiction Services, told Gulf News.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a three-day meeting convened by the NRC to discuss addictions, including gaming disorder, one of the latest mental health conditions to be recognised. In fact, the disorder was only endorsed in May 2019 as a health threat by the International Classification of Diseases, which lists all diagnoses and symptoms treated by healthcare professionals.
Taking initiative, the NRC announced yesterday that it will open a dedicated outpatient clinic in the capital to treat gaming addicts. Dr Hamad Al Ghaferi, Director General of the NRC, said today that the clinic will begin welcoming patients within the first quarter of 2020. While Emiratis will receive treatment free of charge, expat patients will only be charged fees that are nominal compared to international treatment costs, he added.
Dr Al Ghaferisaid, “The inclusion of gaming addiction to the International Classification of Diseases has helped us understand the seriousness of this issue in the UAE and around the world. It not only provides us with the ability to develop the programmes and resources required to help those in need, but it also gives us the opportunity to study its prevalence and develop treatment recommendations to this condition.”
Dr Higuchi, who has been working to combat the disorder in Japan for more than a decade, hailed the NRC’s foresight. in setting up the clinic.
“The most worrying thing about this condition is that 70 per cent of those affected are adolescents. So the NRC clinic will help tackle a problem that is increasing in magnitude among the youth,” he explained.
While it is difficult to ascertain the prevalence of gaming addiction, Dr Higuchi estimates that it affects 0.5 per cent to 27 per cent of each community.
Mortality, health risks
In its mild forms, the addiction can interfere with a patient’s daily life. But mortalities have been reported, the first in the United Kingdom in 1999 and the second in South Korea in 2003.
“Of course, death only occurs in extreme cases, mainly because of prolonged inactivity causing a blood clot that leads to cardiac arrest or a stroke. But like all other addictions, gaming disorder has many comorbidities, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and substance abuse,” warned Dr Anas Mohammad, head of health education at the NRC.
Video games, and in particular mobile gaming, remains extremely popular in the UAE. According to a study, the UAE is consistently ranked amongst the world’s top 100 gaming markets based on revenue source, with more than 80 per cent of smartphone users in the UAE identifying themselves as ‘mobile gamers’. Dr Al Ghaferi however cautioned that this does not speak to the magnitude of the issue in the UAE, adding that the NRC is now running a pilot study to determine this.
Dr Higuchi likened gaming addiction to addiction to tobacco or alcohol. He explained that those affected face a similar disinterest in other forms of entertainment, and often end up confined in their rooms, which further exacerbates comorbidities like depression, anxiety, reduction in brain volume and loss of muscle tone.
Treating the addiction
While experts are yet to agree upon a clinical treatment pathway, they say that effective interventions will combine counselling, cognitive behavioral therapies and medication.
“For instance, at the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Centre that I oversee in Japan, we ask patients to attend group counselling sessions that last from an hour to an hour-and-a-half. We also prescribe medicines to help control ADHD or depression so that the patients resume normal activities like going to school,” Dr Higuchi said.