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He’s Abstaining from Substances but the Gaming Persists

Gaming-chinese teen

saddeneddeeply continues to negotiate with his son, who has managed to stay off all substances but is still leaning heavily on gaming as an escape.

"So my son is having a relapse on video games. He went back to school this fall. I went to Cornell about a week ago and caught him playing video games in the library because we blocked his laptop and iphone. I confronted him and threatened that I would not pay his room and board (tuition is already paid), he has to quit school immediately and come home for treatment per our contract. He vowed not to come home, would not quit games and if he fails school again he will commit suicide. In the end, since we can't get a major part of the tuition back, he is not agreeable and we don't really want to yank him out of school, we decide to let him promise us to get good grades and we paid the room and board. We also made him agree he is fully responsible for his schooling. If he flunks again like last year, we will not pay for next semester and he will have to come home for treatment. That seems to be a good agreement, except he plays video games in the library regularly for 4-5 hours every other day till about 1 am and missed a few classes since the agreement about 5 days ago.

His hypothesis is he can play video games and if he starts school assignments early and asks TA when he has questions, he can succeed school while still playing video games. We basically gave him this semester to prove it. If he fails there will be a lot of natural consequences: loneliness at home and can't have fun mingling with his school friends. However, knowing how much game he is playing, we are very concerned he will fail again. But we don't know what else to do.

The good part is he does not seem to be doing any drugs: e-cig, alcohol, pot, lsd… We test his urine every week."

The video gaming can be a serious problem. 4-5 hours at a clip does suggest it. Is it addiction? You will find people on both sides of the argument. I would say it is problematic because it is causing problems with school attendance. It is also a virtual world that takes him away from face-to-face relationships he could be forming. His friends were fellow pot-smokers; this virtual world of gaming is likely another group of friends. Now that he is not using pot, the virtual world of gaming may have become more important.

It’s important to point out that gaming is also about relationship—a group of peers—so asking him to stop gaming is also asking your son to walk away from feelings of belonging and friendship.

Your control over your son remains limited. He is pushing back. You are negotiating with him.

In our last exchange, we suggested treatment in Ithaca. Were you able to reach anyone at Cornell? You are still drawing the line with your son for full abstinence, which I don’t think is possible all at once. He relapsed on gaming, which we had predicted. To hold the line of reducing use of every kind, he needs help: therapy, a community of non-users, alternative activities that begin to fill the hole left by abstinence.

You can keep pushing for abstinence but he just needs a lot more support to try. He will not completely succeed at first, even with support, so think about where you would draw a more realistic line with his use going forward.

School seems important to him. Good. It’s a reward you can work with. Please see our other posts about college. It’s not easy to work with such a huge reward: it is not easily removed one day and returned the next, as we like our rewards to be.

This is not easy stuff. Let us know what you learn.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. Hi Bernie123,
    To answer your question 1: how did he do that? He wanted to go back to Cornell after flunked last fall in 2017. We make eliminating all addictions including chemicals and video games as condition. He seems to be not using chemicals but relapsed on video games.
    Your question 2: can we live with natural consequences? Yes. We don’t have a choice any way. Thanks.

  2. What an immense plus that he quit using! Wow! How did he accomplish that?! What a huge plus that school is important to him and that he got good enough grades to be admitted. What a huge worry and disappointment that he is gaming so much that he is failing classes. It is so distressing when a talented young person sabotages their strengths. (I have one of those.) If he gets kicked out again, can you make peace with his natural consequences? Maybe a year of community college or working a menial job could be a good wake up call. Time will tell. Let us know. And wishing you and all of us a lot of continued strength as we journey through life with our troubled teens.

  3. He has a therapist who calls him 1-2 times a week. He did go to Cornell medical by himself and blocked us from seeing his mental health record. He did let us see his other medical record like prescriptions because we are concerned with he may take addictive medications like adderall, Ritalin etc. We had a psychologist who was pushing Adderall. We had to fire him right away. More chemical only compound issues. Summer time before the fall we had him taking online Stanford class. He did it with ease without any chemicals (legal or illegal) and no video games.
    Lately he has been deteriorating to playing everyday for 4-6 hours till about 12:30 am. Yesterday was the first day for a week that he did not do that because he has a major exam today. We are secretly happy that he may still have some fear that the school will kick him out again. We want him to prove that he can do both school and video games. I will try to reach out to Cornell some more.