A schoolboy today told of his torment after becoming dangerously-addicted to computer games.
The Evening Post has discovered that a growing number of young people in the county are seeking professional help after becoming hooked on the fantasy world of console games.
Young addicts are skipping meals, playing truant from school and are even stealing money from their parents to buy the latest games.
And one expert today warned two hours of playing games produces the same high as taking a line of cocaine.
Alarming figures reveal three out of five under 16-years-old plays video games to such an extent that it is a cause for concern for health care professionals.
And in the under 10 age group, a staggering four out of five children play computer games at levels showing signs of addiction, figures obtained by addiction experts revealed.
One 15-year-old Lancashire boy today admitted that computer addiction took over his life and told how he discarded his friends, neglected his school studies and survived on junk food as he embarked on marathon gaming sessions of up to 48 hours.
Jack, who lives in Garstang, said: “Playing on my games console was all I wanted to do and it was the first thing I thought of as soon as I woke up. I would play for hours on end without even realising.
“It was like it was a demon that had got inside my brain and I just couldn’t stop. If my parents tried to stop me playing, I would just flip.
“I lost touch with my mates, started doing badly at school and became an angry and aggressive person that wasn’t the real me.”
Steve Pope, a counsellor and therapist who lives in Garstang, says he is seeing increasing numbers of youngsters suffering from game addiction. He said: “A lot of young people get themselves into a situation where they use video games as an escape from the world and they get hooked on the release of adrenaline it gives.
“Spending two hours on a game station is equivalent to taking a line of cocaine in the high it produces.
“It is the fastest growing addiction in the country and this is affecting young people mentally, as well as leading to physical problems such as obesity.
“It gives parents peace and quiet, but it becomes a concern when it is all the child wants to do.
“I saw one 14-year-old Preston boy who played on games for 24 hours non stop and had not eaten and was showing signs of dehydration.
“When his parents tried to take his console away, he became aggressive and threatened to jump out of a window.
“We have also dealt with children who have been skipping school and others who have been stealing from their parents to buy games.
“Computer game addiction can also spiral into violence as after playing violent games, they may turn their fantasy games into reality.
“But it is not just children who are suffering - a growing number of adults are addicted to the Internet and to sites like Facebook.
“I am working with one family where a 74-year-old grandmother is addicted to online poker, her daughter is addicted to eBay and has bought 270 pairs of shoes and her grand-daughter is addicted to Facebook.
“The poisoned chalice is being handed down through the generations.”
Mr Pope says he sees at least two children a week who play video games excessively.
One Preston mum, 49, who asked not to be named, said she bought her teenage son the game Call of Duty last year. She said: “Now that I look back on it, it’s like I went out and bought him his first shot of whisky.”
Steve says he is working with Premiership footballers gripped by computer game addiction - an issue clubs are now addressing.
“Many footballers are playing on hand-held consoles and computer games before a game and this is resulting in a natural high which is causing a chemical imbalance which is leading to them not performing their best on the pitch.
“I am the psychotherapist for Fleetwood Town and they ban their players from using any form of console for at least 24 hours before a game.”
Gayle Brewer, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “Parents are fearful of allowing their children to play outside and feel that if they are inside where they can see them playing computer games, then they are safe.
“A computer game can seem like a quick way of occupying your child and because it is such a high intensity pastime, it keeps them stimulated and they are unlikely to get bored.
“It is important to find a balance. It is easier for parents if they set ground rules from the start about how long their child is allowed to spend on these types of games.”
Peter Wilson, NHS Central Lancashire mental health practitioner, said: “Whatever a person is addicted to, they can’t control how they use it, and they may become dependent on it to get through daily life.”
The UK Interactive Entertainment Association today declined to comment on the issue on gaming addiction and whether they believed it was an issue they needed to tackle.
See today’s Evening Post for a full special report.