The Investigators

Nov 13, 2011 11:59 PM

Online game addiction is an emerging problem

TUCSON - Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) are popular video games with titles like Ever Quest, Dark Age of Camelot and Gears of War. In these games you play with, and against, other players from all corners of the country and around the world live through the internet.

For most players it's a high tech fun hobby but for some it's become a serious addiction.

Travis is an avid gamer. He spends several hours a week "in-game." Gaming for him is not a problem.

But for Elijah Oster it's another story.

"It's 8 hours a day for you know like a year. It's like a 40 hour a week commitment or more."

He had to fess up and put down his joystick a few years back when game time overpowered family time. That's when his son was about three. Elijah was irritable when his wife interrupted his game time.

"And I really just did not budget a lot of time for them," he explains.

He also suffered from insomnia.

Jeffry Friedman is a counselor with Cottonwood Tucson, a behavioral health center. He treats patients with addictions. In the past year he's seen several whose gaming got out of hand and published one of the first articles on the problem in trade magazine.

"It's an environment in which they have mastery and they're proud of that mastery."

It's also a place where they have status and valued relationships with other players.

"So the cyber environment becomes more emotionally resonate to them than the real environment," says Friedman.

This is when it becomes a problem for some gamers, when they give up other life activities.

The fall out looks like other addictions with the following symptoms:

• lost job or dropping out of school
• social isolation, strained relationships, divorce
• carpal tunnel syndrome
• poor diet and health

Friedman teaches his patients the skills to be more at ease in the real world.

"The skill of being able to be present with pain, because all addictions are about avoiding emotional pain."

This is something Elijah learned with his family

"I started understanding the concept of balance."

Friedman also says online game addiction is similar to an eating disorder. With an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, the recovering patient must never use the substance again. With an eating disorder the patient must still eat but control impulsive unhealthy behavior. In today's high tech world, it's not practical to expect someone to never use a computer again.

The problem is so new the American Psychiatric Association has yet to recognize on-line gaming as a classified addiction. That means most insurance companies will not pay for the treatment. If someone in your family has a problem visit the Cottonwood website where Friedman treats patients.

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