LEONARDTOWN, Md. (Circa) — For Andrew Lawlin, playing video games was just something he’d always done to connect with friends, but when he was just 16 years old, he realized his hobby had turned into an addiction.
“I was gaming for 10 hours one Saturday, and my parents came home and were like, ‘Hey, what have you been doing all day?’ And I was like, ‘Gaming,'” he said. “At that point, they were just disappointed.”
That’s the point, Andrew said, he realized he needed to make a change. Like most millennials, Andrew turned to the internet for help.“So, I researched, ‘How to quit playing video games,’ on YouTube,” he said. “The first answer was: Cam.”
By Cam, Andrew was referring to Cam Adair, who founded the organization Game Quitters in 2015.
Adair struggled with a video game addiction for more than 10 years. Gaming consumed his life, eventually leading him to drop out of high school twice.
“Eventually, I got to a point where I wrote a suicide note and that’s really the night where I realized I needed to make a change, and that change had to happen immediately,” Adair said.
Like Adair, Andrew used video games as an escape.
Andrew’s mom, Jennifer Lawlin, said a series of life events created the “perfect storm” that made the video games much more appealing than dealing with many of the changes happening around him.
At the time, Jennifer said he was struggling in school because of a learning disability and they had just adopted Andrew’s younger brother, Micah.
“It was just a huge, dynamic change,” she said. “I think Andrew was trying to adjust to some major changes in his life.”
Because Micah wasn’t allowed to play some of the games his older brother could, Jennifer said gaming gave Andrew a sense of space.
“He was finding success, he was getting validation; all these things gaming does for kids,” she added.
Once Andrew realized he was struggling, he watched Adair’s TEDx Talk and decided to try the Game Quitters 90 day detox program.
“I physically had to unplug the gaming consoles,” Andrew explained. “I had to tell my parents, ‘Don’t let me do this.’ I deleted all the games off the iPads and iPhones.”
During the first week of the detox, Andrew said he didn’t really know what to do with his time. But, eventually, he picked up his family camera and started learning photography.
Now, just a few years later, Andrew is being mentored by National Geographic photographer.
“That decision made me into the photographer that I am today,” he said. “I’ve been all over the world taking pictures.”
Andrew wrote a letter to Adair after going through the detox, thanking him for changing his life forever.
“When I received Andrew’s letter, it was actually a really special time in my life. I think that it was a day where I really needed to hear that,” Adair said. “Having this community and trying to advocate on this issue is not always easy.”
Despite the difficulties that come with advocating for this issue, Adair said he sees the World Health Organization’s decision to consider gaming addiction as an actual mental health disorder as a step in the right direction.
“I think it actually has a huge impact on making sure that people who need and want help are able to get it,” Adair said.
One reason this decision is so important, Adair explained, is because acknowledging this disorder has insurance implications. Currently, he said people who seek help may not be able to find a psychologist or a therapist who is trained to treat this type of addiction because it previously wasn’t recognized. On top of that, there’s no official standard for what is considered a gaming addiction.
Based on his own research, Adair said about 48 percent of the community meets criteria for moderate plus depression.
“Right now, if you’re a therapist and you have a 23-year-old, most likely male, come into your office for depression, which is what they’re more likely to come in for, and you’re not screening them for their gaming use, you could be missing a huge component of why they’re so depressed,” Adair explained.
Both he and Andrew said it’s important that gamers who feel like they’re struggling with something like this reach out for help.
For Andrew, leaning on his parents, his church community and his friends helped get him through, in addition to the 90-day detox program he completed.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a gaming addiction, Adair said it’s important to seek help and to take it one day at a time.
Read more stories from Alix Hines on Circa.