Recently there has been a renewed cry for video and computer game addictions to be recognised by the greater community. More and more material is coming to light that confirms obsessive and addictive behaviour is increasing among people, especially young people, who engage in computer games for long periods of time.

In Australia, Professor Vladan Starcevic of Sydney University, a gaming obsession expert, has called for the establishment of a treatment resource in Australia designed to deal with video game addiction. He said "we have people in this country who do have a problem with that just like with gambling and other addictive behaviours”.

A recent study by Professor Starcevic and the department of Psychological Medicine at Sydney’s Nepean hospital revealed that up to 10% of gamers who took part showed signs of addicted behaviour. His findings were recently published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Extended time spent playing computer games also cause other problems, such as cyber-bullying, lack of social skills and the inability to interact in a ‘live’ situation. Teenagers can also become withdrawn, depressed, agitated and have difficulty concentrating with poor attention spans. Professor Starcevic has seen an increase in young patients presenting with these obsessive symptoms.

The increase of violent outbursts amongst teenagers in the UK who are addicted to computer games has now seen the opening of a special technology addiction unit by a private hospital in London. The service will help teenagers through either group therapy or in-patient treatment.

These new “screenagers” as they are becoming known spend hours in front of their computer screens playing games. When asked to leave their computers and become involved in face to face interaction with other family members they fly into violent rages.

"I’ve been contacted by parents who see their children going into a rage when they’re told to turn off their computer," Richard Graham, lead consultant at Capio Nightingale Hospital in London. Many begin playing for the social interaction, but Graham said "it gives them a sense of connection so they end up playing all the time."

"Mental health services need to adapt quickly to the changing worlds that young people inhabit, and understand just how seriously their lives can be impaired by unregulated time online, on-screen or in-game," Graham said.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.