TORONTO -- As families in Canada continue to struggle with a new reality forced upon them by the pandemic, many children and young adults have turned to video games for an escape.

Screen time is now the default for millions and the temptation to play has never been greater.

But how much is too much, and where is the line between hobby and addiction?

Since the start of the pandemic, all metrics have pointed to a massive increase in gaming. In the first two months of the pandemic alone, Microsoft reported a 130 per cent increase in multiplayer games on its platform.

According to Jastra Kranjec from U.K.-based, “Statistics show the U.S. video game publisher behind the worldwide gaming phenomenon, Fortnite, had 287.6 million cumulative streaming hours watched in the first quarter of 2020. By the end of March, this figure surged by 87 per cent to 539.5 million”

But for some, unlimited video game access can be dangerous.

Calgary’s Cam Adair found himself in those circumstances a decade ago. His addiction to gaming spiraled out of control and he eventually lost his job and failed out of school. Things got so bad that he even considered suicide. Adair tells W5, “I think hitting rock bottom for me just made me really realize that I need to make changes in my life.”

Now he provides one of the only resources Canadian families can turn to for help with his website

And Adair’s case isn’t unique.

Experts are sounding the alarm on the severity of gaming addiction. Some even claim it can be compared to a drug or alcohol dependency.

“We know that gaming actually produces dopamine and that actually elicits a level of excitement and enjoyment in the game. That dopamine rush has been looked at as analogous to what happens during substance abuse when someone is ingesting cocaine, for example,” McGill University professor of psychiatry Jeffrey Derevensky tells W5.

Derevensky is the Director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-risk Behaviours, and says that video game addiction is "a growing problem,” especially during the pandemic.

He was a part of the team that classified video game addiction as a disorder in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD).

Cam Adair, who has first-hand experience with both gaming addiction and providing support to those who want a way out, applauds the new WHO classification.

“It was a significant milestone in this field, and it's something that when I started sharing my story over 10 years ago, I never even imagined that sort of thing taking place. But it's important because it provides a lot more validation that if you're out there struggling, you can seek help.”

But researcher Derevensky says Canada is not doing enough to help addicted youth.

“I don't think there's enough training of professionals, and mental health professionals in particular, who are really familiar enough with gaming. And I do think the governments, both at the federal level and provincial level, should be designating some funding for more research into this problem.”

For parents who are concerned that their children might be gaming too much, video game addiction advocate Cam Adair tells W5 to watch out for these warning signs and ask these questions:

  • Does your child think about games even when they’re not playing?
  • Does your child feel restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious, bored, or sad when they try to cut down or stop gaming, or when they are unable to play?
  • Has your child felt they should play less, but are unable to cut back on the amount of time they spend playing games?
  • Has your child lost interest, or reduced participation in other recreational activities due to gaming?
  • Has your child been deceptive, or lied to family, friends, or others about how much they game? Or tried to keep their family or friends from knowing how much they game?
  • Does your child game to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?

Video game addiction resources are limited in Canada, but Adair is attempting to fill the gap offering this quiz along with links to counsellors and coaches on his website,

Watch ‘Hooked’ Saturday at 7 p.m. on W5.