MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 75% of kids and teenagers play video games, after a recent survey found most played even more during the pandemic. But an addiction group is warning gamers not to get carried away.

At Anoka High School, it’s game time. Some juniors and seniors are part of the “Anime and Gaming Club.”

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“You can meet people who like to play video games,” said senior Alex Purinton. “We have 60 to 70 students here at Anoka High School.”

“People play ‘League of Legends.’ One room is for ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ There are people who like ‘Minecraft’ and also card games like ‘Magic The Gathering’ or ‘Smash Bros,'” said junior Ben Miller.

The club promoted as a healthy way to game while understanding that screen breaks are needed. That became an issue for many of these gamers during distance learning.

“I played a lot. I’ll go out and do a mile run, takes me 10 minutes, or I’ll maybe go out on a walk for an hour or just go a jog,” said junior Dylan Bartley.

“I will say I have to take a break. I’m gonna go sleep, I gonna go cook because I like to cook a lot,” said Miller.

It’s what Zach Hansen wants to hear. He’s a professor at Hazelden’s Graduate School and specializes in addictions.

“The criteria for gaming-use disorder are really modeled after substance-use disorder and gambling disorder,” said Hansen.

Hansen worries that not enough studies have been done to show the true impact of excessive gaming, especially when we were locked down and students were constantly at computers.

“Are they withdrawing from relationships? Are they withdrawing from school activities,” said Hanzen. “Are they not doing other activities that they used to find enjoyable?”

Those are questions “Jack” has asked himself.

“I must have quit that game seven to nine times,” said Jack.

He’s part of On-line Gamers Anonymous, a therapy group for people who realize they need help. Years ago he got hooked on a video game called ‘Everquest.’ He was stressed out and needed short-term gratification. Because the game didn’t have a true ending and you could keep playing, Jack became obsessed.

“I would usually play 20 hours on the weekends sometimes and then another two to four hours a night. You were talking 40 hours a week. Basically another job,” said Jack.

It affected his sleep, his job and his relationship with his wife — which eventually ended. To beat the addiction he joined the group founded by Liz Whoolly, who has her own tragic experience.

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“The game just sucked him in so bad that he left everything in his real life and became dependent on the game,” said Woolley.

She said she watched her son Shawn became obsessed with a role-playing game. She said he even quit taking medication for ADD and epilepsy.

“The professionals, they also said, ‘Well, he just likes to game, let him game, it’s the only thing he likes to do.’ I said, ‘Well that’s crazy. That’s like telling an alcoholic if you just like to drink just keep drinking because it’s the only thing you like to do,” said Woolley.

Woolley said Shawn’s withdrawal eventually played a role in him taking his own life. She used her grief to write books about the warning signs and to establish On-line Gamers Anonymous. The group meets twice weekly and provides resources for families.

“Once you cross that line you’ve got a problem. We use many AA materials and we just substitute gaming. It works. It’s the same thing. It’s like, oh wow. I can’t believe it. It doesn’t matter what the drug is,” said Woolley.

Like Woolley, Hansen is pleased the World Health Organization now recognizes gaming disorders as a stand-alone diagnosis.

But in the United States it’s considered an area of further research which likely plays a role in a lack of resources for therapy and treatment.

“It’s not an official diagnosis yet, and what the implications for that are is access for treatment and funding for treatment aren’t as much as say substance-use disorder, or their mental health disorder,” said Hansen.

In the meantime, Hansen recommends parents set screen time rules with kids and to make sure they have other activities they enjoy.

A digital detox could mean temporarily stepping away or limiting game time to a few hours a week.

“It’s not just, ‘I’m doing this to be mean, I’m doing this to punish you.’ It’s if you play too many video games this can happen, you are not going to develop skills in sports for example, or if you play an instrument,” said Woolley.

If they recognize a problem he said parents should talk with their kids away from the game, go for a drive or to a restaurant. High school clubs that promote healthy gaming habits can also help.

“Help them recognize that this is a serious problem, and your life can be so much better,” said Hansen.

Hansen said about 4% of teenagers who play video games develop an unhealthy addiction.

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Just over 3,000 Marylanders are hospitalized with COVID-19, a week after hospitalizations peaked at 3,462, according to data released Monday by the Maryland Department of Health.  
  • Cases: 906,209 (+6,537)
  • Positivity: 20.25% (-1.66%)
  • Deaths: 12,467 (+51)
  • Hospitalizations 3,062 (-60)
    • Adults: 2,470 acute, 555 ICU
    • Kids: 29 acute, 8 ICU
  • 93.3% w/ at least one dose, 87.4% age 5 & up
  • 4,339,390 fully vaccinated
  • 10,777,703 doses administered
    • 1st: 4,572,339 (+3,277)
    • 2nd: 4,008,964 (+1,537)
    • J&J: 330,426 (+136)
    • Booster: 1,865,974 (+8,588)
BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Even as Maryland added more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases, its statewide positivity rate continues to slide, according to data released Thursday by the Maryland Department of Health. Hospitalizations decreased by 34 over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-19 patients being treated by hospitals to 3,428. Data show the death toll stands at 12,234 after 63 additional deaths were recorded. With the state reporting 10,587 new cases of COVID-19, a total of 871,936 have been documented in Maryland since the outset of the pandemic. The percentage of people testing positive fell to 25.45%, a 1.46% decrease. The latest COVID-19 metrics come as Maryland is under a state of emergency issued by Gov. Larry Hogan in response to surging cases and hospitalizations. Of those hospitalized, 2,844 are adults in acute care settings and 556 are adults in intensive care. Another 23 are children in acute care and five are in the ICU. Hogan has attributed the surge in cases to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which he said is "now clearly the dominant variant among our state's lab-confirmed cases." The governor said genome sequencing by the University of Maryland found that 88% of recent samples tested positive for Omicron, with that figure rising to 91% among samples taken from hospitalized patients. In recent weeks, the state has ramped up its testing operations in an effort to keep up with public demand. That includes the opening of 20 new testing sites statewide that will be staffed by the Maryland National Guard. Hospitals statewide have freed up beds and scaled back non-emergency procedures, with some shifting to crisis standards of care, in response to the COVID-19 surge. Hogan issued an executive order on Jan. 4 empowering the Maryland Department of Health to regulate hospital capacity and resources, and authorizing retired, out-of-state and graduate nurses to practice here. A second order aims to beef up EMS response. The state said vaccination data was delayed Wednesday, but below are the latest figures provided by the health department. There are 4,315,402 Marylanders fully vaccinated and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 92.9% of the state’s adults have gotten at least one dose. Among Marylanders age 5 and older, 86.8% of residents have gotten at least one does of the vaccine. The state has administered 10,660,783 doses of the vaccine. Of those, 4,547,699 are first doses, 12,706 in the last 24 hours. Another 3,985,715 are second doses, 11,265 in the past day. The state has administered 1,797,682 booster doses, including 28,426 in the past 24 hours. A total of 329,687 Marylanders have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 394 in the past day.