narcissism

How a Dutch clinic helps UK teenagers addicted to gaming | Society

When gaming addiction took hold of Tom, 17, he would stay up all night glued to his computer. He stopped going to school and, despite his exams approaching, the only thought on his mind was how long the new game he had purchased was taking to download.

Then one day, after refusing to leave his bedroom for months, he decided to get help. He found very few places in Britain offering much in terms of treatment, but a psychologist suggested he go to the Yes We Can clinic, Europe’s only addiction treatment centre for young people, almost 300 miles away in the Netherlands.

Since then Tom’s life has been transformed. Sitting in an office on the grounds of the clinic where his treatment began about a year ago, he lists everything he can do now that he could not before: talk to peers, plan for the future and resume his education.

“I changed through the course of the programme, slowly but surely. At first I was super anxious and I could not talk to anyone, but slowly I started to open up and became comfortable. I started to face my avoidant behaviour and understand why I do it. I started to open up about my past and figure things out,” he says.

Though often sensationalised, gaming addiction is a real and growing problem. Last year the World Health Organization listed and defined it as a condition in the 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases. Some countries had already identified it as a major public health issue.

The Yes We Can clinic treated 30 people for the problem in 2016 and 90 in 2018. So far this year 55 young people have sought help. A significant number are being sent over from the UK, where there no NHS facilities catering for people with gaming disorder. There are a handful of private clinics offering treatment but waiting lists can be long.

“In London more institutions are starting with daycare programmes, and that is a good thing because they learn a lot here in 10 weeks but it is safe here, and when they go back to the UK and there are no more rules – someone waking you up – then it is a really good idea for six to 12 months to first start working two to three days a week in daycare programmes,” says Jan Willem Poot, 40, a former addict turned entrepreneur, who set up the clinic.

Tom went through an intensive 10-week programme at the clinic, which is in Hilvarenbeek, a small town 90 minutes’ drive south from Amsterdam. It involved one-on-one and group therapy sessions, outdoor activities and challenges. Talking about his progress, he says: “I still have a hard time. Life is not easy but I have learned to cope through the suffering and tough times.”

Outdoor activity



Treatment at the clinic involves one-on-one and group therapy sessions, outdoor activities and challenges. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

The clinic originally treated only Dutch nationals. In 2017 it opened an international facility catering to around 24 foreign teenagers and young adults. It charges €64,000 (£55,000) for a room, which guests share. As well as the 10-week programme there is an optional four-week aftercare programme, which costs €16,000 (£14,000). While Dutch residents are paid for by local authorities or by insurance companies (it is mandatory to have health insurance in the Netherlands), most international guests, like Tom, are self-funded.

Poot says other screen-based addictions are also becoming more common, with people experiencing dependency on Netflix, pornography or social media. “They have found a way to feel better just by being in the online world because it is escapism.”

Many girls in particular are coming in with social media addiction. “That has a lot to do with personality disorder, where they are so insecure they need confirmation by sending 20-30 selfies or Instagram posts a day – they need the likes to get confirmation that they are still attractive or liked.”

Poot says devices in video games such as loot boxes – where players pay a small fee for a chance to obtain a random assortment of virtual items – get people hooked even deeper.

Those who check into the clinic are not allowed to have mobile phones, laptops or iPods with them. Nicotine is the only addictive substance permitted and young people are not allowed coffee or fizzy drinks. There is no contact with their family for the first five weeks, after which parents are invited to a bonding week.

Victor, 24, from the Netherlands, who was treated for gaming addiction there, says: “It was helpful having treatment with other addicts. I recognised a lot of stories. One time I heard a story from a guy who was an alcoholic, and without mentioning the word alcohol everything was my story. By seeing that it also helped me see that addiction is a wide and broad subject to talk about.”

Tom is grateful for the treatment he received, although he notes it is a shame he had to travel so far to get it. “Support in Britain is not great. I don’t know any rehabs specifically for people my age. I have learned to create my own support, and it is a shame because obviously centres like this are expensive, so most people cannot get into them.”

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