Is video game addiction real?

Therapy against computer addiction: this is where young people find their way back to real life

The son only hangs on the computer, plays online games half the night, keeps slipping at school and is no longer interested in previous hobbies. Many parents despair and fail because of this excessive game consumption. Sometimes only therapy can bring adolescents out of their addiction.

In Dortmund, the Maltese have founded a therapy facility for young people addicted to computers. The name "Auxilium Reloaded" stands for "restart". A total of 14 young people aged between 15 and 25 can be accommodated in the supervised living group. They come from all over Germany and stay for one to one and a half years.

The youth welfare office intervened with Lukas

Luke is 15 and actually has a different name. He comes from Hesse and is the youngest addition to the residential group for young people with computer addiction in Dortmund. Luke speaks voluntarily about his fate. Likewise, the 20-year-old Justin from the Rhineland. The difference: Justin wanted to break out of the virtual world on his own initiative. "I came up with the idea myself. I told my legal guardian."

The youth welfare office intervened with Lukas, who lived with his mother. He started playing when he was ten. When he was 15, school threatened to go down the stream. He hardly saw the outside world. "Sometimes I was still in the swimming pool with my aunt." That was it with the outside contacts.

Justin has been with the residential group since July. He had closed himself off behind the PC in his own apartment. He doesn't have a school leaving certificate. A six in math marked the end of grade eight.

Recognition of anonymous teammates is addicting

"I started with a Playstation II," he recalls. That wasn't enough. Justin wanted to gamble online. "I played first person shooter." The players gain fame and rise to higher and higher levels. That can be addicting. The game partners are other internet gamers who don't know each other. Real friends: none.

Not yet recognized as a disease

"Computer addiction is not yet recognized as a disease," says Bert te Wildt from the Internet clinic at Bochum University Hospital. The ambulance cooperates with the Dortmunders. When it comes to costs, te Wildt and the inpatient facilities have to struggle to cover the costs. These are health insurances, youth welfare or pension insurance. "The health insurance companies are not the problem," says the psychotherapist.

Extroverts end up with drugs, fearful people flee to play worlds

Patrick Portmann is the head of "Auxilium Reloaded". It is mainly young people who end up there who have lost access to reality in online games such as the shooting game "Call of Duty".

In the first few weeks, the staff at the facility watch how the boys gamble. There are currently no girls because the online games are more geared towards boys. Portmann believes that games like "Candy Crush" could soon change that.

The therapists want to discover the roots of how addiction came about and how it is expressed. The reasons are similar: school overload or bullying. "The extroverts find themselves with drugs, the fearful tend to lose themselves in the games."

Patients are only allowed to use the computer for one hour

Therapy follows the diagnosis. "We first have to get the day-night rhythm back," says therapist Markus Hofmann. The residents only have access to smartphones or computers for an hour a day. It will be more later.

Justin groans at the topic of the daily rhythm: "Mondays to Fridays we are woken up at half past six. Then there is breakfast. We also have to clean." Cooking and shopping together is also part of getting used to the real world. Portmann and Hofmann are amused when asked whether the boys can go out alone and have a drink in the pub. "Of course they can celebrate outside," says Portmann. "We're even happy. That's real life."

Lukas wants to switch to chess

Lukas already has ideas about outside employment. "I play a little chess." He is toying with a club. And soon there will be secondary school nearby. Justin also wants to finish school, at least the secondary school. He is waiting for the next semester at the adult education center or evening school.

One in ten people on the threshold of Internet addiction

According to an EU study, one in ten young people in Germany uses the Internet or computers to take on alarming proportions. One percent of young Germans are considered to be addicted to the internet.

Symptoms of computer addiction in adolescents

  • steady increase in playing time on the computer despite the ban
  • Downplaying computer game consumption
  • Withdrawal from the circle of friends
  • Neglect of hobbies, school or work
  • irregular sleep times and fatigue
  • Change in eating behavior with malnutrition
  • Unusual changes in mood and increasing aggressiveness

Parents can find further information and offers of help on the homepage of "Auxilium Reloaded" and from the Association for Media Dependency.

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