Ninety per cent of the young people who seek treatment for compulsive computer gaming are not addicted.

So says Keith Bakker the founder and head of Europe’s first and only clinic to treat gaming addicts.

The Smith & Jones Centre in Amsterdam, has treated hundreds of young gamers since the clinic opened in 2006.

But the clinic is changing its treatment as it realises that compulsive gaming is a social rather than a psychological problem.

Using traditional abstinence-based treatment models the clinic has had very high success rate treating people who also show other addictive behaviours such as drug taking and excessive drinking.

But Mr Bakker believes that this kind of cross-addiction affects only 10% of gamers. For the other 90% who may spend four hours a day or more playing games such as World of Warcraft, he no longer thinks addiction counselling is the way to treat these people.

“These kids come in showing some kind of symptoms that are similar to other addictions and chemical dependencies,” he says.

“But the more we work with these kids these less I believe we can call this addiction. What many of these kids need is their parents and their school teachers – this is a social problem.”

In response to this realisation the clinic has changes its treatment programme for gamers to focus more on developing activity-based social and communications skills to help them rejoin society.

Social ties

“This gaming problem is a result of the society we live in today,” Mr Bakker told BBC News. “Eighty per cent of the young people we see have been bullied at school and feel isolated. Many of the symptoms they have can be solved by going back to good old fashioned communication.”

By offering compulsive gamers a place where they feel accepted and where their voice will be heard, the clinic has found that the vast majority have been able to leave gaming behind and rebuild their lives.

For Mr Bakker the root cause of the huge growth in excessive gaming lies with parents who have failed in their duty of care.

But he is quick to point out that 87% of online gamers are over the age of 18 – and once they cross that line, help is something they need to seek for themselves because parents no longer have the legal right to intervene.

For younger gamers, intervention may be the only way to break the cycle. That means stepping in and sometimes literally taking a child away from a computer, removing them from the game for a period of time until they become aware of their habits and begin to see there are other choices.

“It’s a choice,” he says. “These kids know exactly what they are doing and they just don’t want to change. If no one is there to help them, then nothing will ever happen.”

Alone together

George [not his real name] is an 18-year-old gamer being treated at the clinic in Amsterdam. He was spending at least 10 hours a day playing Call of Duty 4 until he sought help at the centre.

“Call of Duty was somewhere I felt accepted for the first time in my life,” he says. “I was never helped by my parents or my school. At the clinic I also feel accepted and have come out of myself”

George kept his gaming problem a secret as much as he could but when he did tell people, he says that no-one offered him help.

“I liked gaming because people couldn’t see me, they accepted me as my online character – I could be good at something and feel part of a group”

Underlying that new sense of belonging was a young man who felt powerless and neglected in real life.

“I was aware that I played too much but I didn’t know what to do. But it helped me because I could be aggressive and get my anger and frustration out online,” he says.

This kind of aggression is not uncommon in young gamers who feel frustrated with their real lives. Besides addiction, aggression and violence form part of the ongoing debate about the influence of gaming on impressionable minds.

When two students killed twelve pupils and a teacher in the Columbine High School shooting the US in 1999, many believed that their common interest in playing violent games had helped to trigger the massacre.

Research at Smith & Jones seems to imply that feelings of anger and powerlessness often pre-exist a compulsion to play violent games. In some cases these people find each other in the gaming world and form a bond based on those feelings of alienation and anger.

Mr Bakker believes that if there was more commitment from parents and other care givers to listen to what their children are saying then these issues of isolation and frustration could be dealt with at source and bring many young people out of the virtual world and back into real life.

“If I continue to call gaming an addiction it takes away the element of choice these people have,” he says. “It’s a complete shift in my thinking and also a shift in the thinking of my clinic and the way it treats these people.”

Mr Bakker sees a time when addiction centres like Smith & Jones could close down if parents and adults in the community took more responsibility for the habits of their children.

“In most cases of compulsive gaming, it is not addiction and in that case, the solution lies elsewhere.”

no_smokingIf there’s one thing a smoker needs in order to quit, it’s moral support — mostly from friends and family subjected to the short temper and irritability that usually accompany one of mankind’s most daunting tests of willpower. In 1977, the American Cancer Society offered smokers even more support, launching the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday in November. On this day every year, smokers across the country try to do what feels impossible — give up their cigarettes for 24 hours. The idea is that many will quit puffing away altogether. (In this spirit, this year’s campaign includes an aptly named initiative for next week called “Stay Quit Monday.”)

The idea of quitting collectively came 12 years after the landmark U.S. General Surgeon’s Report connecting tobacco use to lung cancer, low birth weight and coronary disease. Lynn Smith, a newspaper editor in Monticello, Minn., and a former smoker, wrote editorials in the 1970s urging others to quit. Smith, who once told the New York Times he started smoking “as a teenager by picking up butts from the street during the Depression,” organized a local event called “D-Day,” or “Don’t Smoke Day,” in 1976. The next year, the California chapter of the American Cancer Society sponsored a similar event, and by 1977, the Great American Smokeout was born. In subsequent years, the Smokeout has encouraged millions of Americans to set aside their packs and cartons, if only for one brief, breathable day.

By its fourth year, the American Cancer Society claims, as many as 16.5 million people participated in the Smokeout, with a million dropping the habit for good. The campaign was directed in particular at young people; antismoking activists said it was harder to keep teenagers from picking up the habit than to get older people to drop it. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 1980 21% of high school students were habitual puffers. Over the years, the Cancer Society has enlisted celebrities and health officials to promote the Smokeout campaign — everyone from Dallas star and ex-smoker Larry Hagman (1981) to Mr. Potato Head, who was 1987’s “Spokespud.” (Some reports at the time said he turned over his plastic pipe to the Surgeon General in the process.) Throughout the Smoke Out’s History, other gimmicks have been employed, including free giveaways (apples or ice cream scoops in exchange for packs of cigarettes), friendly intimidation (volunteers dressed as smoke detectors blowing kazoos at smokers on the street) and slogans (“Kiss me, I don’t smoke”).

The smoking rate among Americans has fallen steadily since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, from 42% that year to 19.8% of adults in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smokeout organizers claim some responsibility, saying the campaign “set the stage for the cultural revolution in tobacco control that has occurred over this period.” For younger generations of Americans, it’s hard to imagine that as recently as the 1980s, smoking was allowed on commercial airplanes and in hospitals. The Smokeout has helped, to be sure, but so too have restrictions on tobacco advertising, local bans and, notably, the Tobacco Master Statement, which ordered cigarette makers to pay some $200 billion to states to cover smoking-related health costs and public education efforts. The 10-year anniversary of the settlement is this month.

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Bad Bosses,Stressful Life

September 15, 2008


Inconsiderate bosses not only make work stressful, they may also increase the risk of heart disease for their employees, experts believe.

A Swedish team found a strong link between poor leadership and the risk of serious heart disease and heart attacks among more than 3,000 employed men.

And the effect may be cumulative – the risk went up the longer an employee worked for the same company.

The study is published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Stressful environment

Experts said that feeling undervalued and unsupported at work can cause stress, which often fosters unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, that can lead to heart disease.

Previous work has shown that unfair bosses can drive up their employees’ blood pressure, and persistent high blood pressure can increase heart disease risk.

For the latest study, researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University tracked the heart health of the male employees, aged between 19 and 70 and working in the Stockholm area, over a period of nearly a decade.

During this time 74 cases of fatal and non-fatal heart attack or acute angina, or death from ischaemic heart disease, occurred.

All the participants were asked to rate the leadership style of their senior managers on competencies such as how clearly they set out goals for their staff and how good they were at communicating and giving feedback.

The staff who deemed their senior managers to be the least competent had a 25% higher risk of a serious heart problem.

And those working for what was classed as a long time – four years or more – had a 64% higher risk.

The findings held true, regardless of educational attainment, social class, income, workload, lifestyle factors, such as smoking and exercise, and other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The researchers, which included experts from University College London in the UK and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, said that if a direct cause and effect was confirmed, then managers’ behaviour should be targeted in a bid to stave off serious heart disease among less senior employees.

They said managers should give employees clear work objectives and sufficient power in relation to their responsibilities.

Cathy Ross, cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation, said: “This limited, male-only study suggests that a good, clear working relationship with your manager may help to protect against heart disease.

“Feeling undervalued and unsupported can cause stress, which often leads to unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, eating a poor diet, drinking too much alcohol and not getting enough exercise – adding to your risk of developing heart problems.

“Being fit and active can give you the double benefit of busting work stress and boosting your heart health at the same time.”