Young gaming addicts can now get NHS treatment - so what are the warning signs to look out for?

  • Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

Young gaming addicts can now be referred through the NHS for expert counselling on their compulsion to play computer games.

Children and young adults who are seriously addicted to gaming will now be able to seek treatment, including via Skype.

Dedicated professionals are now in place to accept referrals for youngsters aged 13 to 25.

The NHS warns gaming addiction is a problem that's here to stay. Credit: PA

The new service, first announced in June, is part of the Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders.

The World Health Organization describes "gaming disorder" as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes "precedence over other life interests".

Symptoms of addiction include lack of control over gaming and placing it as a huge priority at the expense of other things, including relationships, social life and studying.

Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director, said: "Compulsive gaming and social media and internet addiction is a problem that is not going to go away when they play such a key part in modern life.

"The NHS is rising to the challenge - as it always does - with these new, innovative services, but we can't be expected to pick up the pieces, which is why tech giants need to recognise the impact that products which encourage repeated and persistent use have on young people and start taking their responsibilities seriously too."

Fortnite has been highlighted as one game that could become addictive to young players. Credit: Epic Games

Up to 14 new adult NHS gambling clinics are being opened across the UK.

The Northern Gambling Service clinic in Leeds is the first outside London and opened last month.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders and the Royal College of Psychiatrists' spokeswoman on behavioural addictions, said: "Gaming disorder is a mental health condition which can have a hugely debilitating effect on people's lives, both for patients and their families who can be left feeling utterly helpless in the wake of their loved one's addiction.

"Gaming disorder is not a mental illness to be taken lightly: we are talking about instances where someone may spend up to 12 hours a day playing computer games and can end up becoming socially isolated and lose their job as a result. I am delighted to be leading this new clinic."

Addiction to gaming is now being put on a par with gambling addiction or even addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Symptoms of gaming addiction include withdrawing away from family. Credit: PA
  • What are the warning signs of a potential addiction?

According to the UK Addiction Treatment Centres, and other sources, there are several signs that parents, friends and family could watch out for that could point to harmless gaming becoming an addiction.

Close friends or family can see a change in personality in the gamer, with he or she becoming more introverted, argumentative, or showing big mood swings - which could all be linked with how "well" the game is going.

Other signs include:

Unusual preoccupation with the idea of getting back online to play

Self-imposed isolation in order to guarantee uninterrupted play

Feelings of irritability and restlessness when not playing games

Lying about the amount of time spent gaming

Persistent headaches caused by too much screen time

Ditching or avoiding other interests and hobbies - such as stopping playing football or after-school clubs

Poorer performance at school or at work

Diminished personal hygiene and poor diet

Fatigue through to lack of sleep

Some addicts are spending 12 hours straight online. Credit: PA
  • Which games are thought to be "addictive"?

According to experts, the more immersive the game, the more addictive it can be.

Massive multi-player games, with their never-ending storylines, quests, opportunities to open "loot boxes" are a huge draw - and one that is difficult to break.

  • How are other countries dealing with gaming addiction?

NHS England said many other countries are grappling with the issue of gaming and internet addiction.

In South Korea, the government has introduced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 6am.

Meanwhile, in Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games.

In China, internet giant Tencent has also limited the hours that children can play its most popular games.