Rock Center | November 08, 2012
>>> on the growing concern folks have about a friend or a loved one or perhaps themselves when they're honest about it. the folks who can't get off the computer. life these days is full of addictions. we dent used to call them addictions in all cases like sex or caffeine or shopping or hoarding. but they are now treated as such by professionals. so how about internet addiction as a bona fide illness? we asked resident professional dr. nancy snyderman .
>> reporter: the voice of a desperate mother in fishers indiana.
>> on technology today. he's just crying and really upset.
>> reporter: her 17-year-old son chris turned violent when she took away his computer. so brooke mcsweeney called the police.
>> reporter: he punched a hole in this wall? brooke says her son is an addict hooked not on drugs or alcohol but internet games . how did you decide it is an addiction and not just a bad habit or something that adolescent boy is going through?
>> because his whole demeanor has changed. his whole personality. like his, he is just a different person. he can't -- leave the game.
>> he knows he is addicted but doesn't want to admit it.
>> reporter: hiding in the bedroom with her mother the night of the 911 call was 11-year-old haley, chris ' sister.
>> i feel bad for him, i really love him a lot.
>> reporter: yeah, i know.
>> people don't understand it. they don't know what goes on every day.
>> reporter: is it really possible to become addicted to the internet? an emerging and controversial theory says yes it is. just as some people become hooked on drugs, alcohol or gambling. stanford psychiatrist dr. elias has studied obsessive internet users for a decade. his research found that up to 13% of people may show signs of internet addiction .
>> for something that has changed our lives so drastically and so irreversibly, the internet hasn't received nearly the amount of attention and research fund that it deserves.
>> reporter: in a small study in china, researchers compared the brain scans of average internet users to the brain scans of internet addicts. they found changes in the areas here in red, responsible for decision making, emotions, and self control . the same areas that are affected in substance abusers.
>> we don't know yet whether the changes we are seeing in the brain are the cause of internet use or online video game use or the effect.
>> reporter: this past april, the american psych iatric association agreed more research need to be done into what it calls internet use disorder and included it in the apen dx pendix of its manual.
>> it is easy to change the definition of a mental disorder and you will have millions of patients.
>> reporter: critics question whether this behavior is a real addiction or just an unhealthy obsession.
>> not every passion that interest in life is an addiction .
>> reporter: dr. francis, a leading psychiatrist who has been fighting efforts to classify the diagnosis of internet addiction .
>> i am not arguing against the fact there is a small group of people who suffer horribly from this. when you introduce a diagnosis into the system it is very likely to take off in directions you never imagined. where do you draw the line? why not include work addiction ? sex addiction ? shopping addiction ? golf addiction ? model railroading addiction ?
>> reporter: to the people who say, hey, look this is goofy science. this addiction is just a fancy word for bad behavior and bad parenting, what's your response?
>> isn't that what we did to substance users, 40, 50 years ago and have research to show drug and alcohol addiction exists.
>> they run the country's first residential program for internet addiction just outside of seattle. most people associate internet addiction with pornography or gambling. but this program called restart treats people hooked on online games , chat rooms , even blogs. what separates an addict from an average user?
>> inability to stop even though they made promises they're going to quit. difficulties in school. academic failure. withdrawal. distancing from relationships. laeg to family and friends. not showing up with responsibilities.
>> sleep deprivation, typical.
>> stag up late.
>> that does sound like addictive behavior .
>> it does.
>> it is.
>> reporter: everyone we met at restart said their virtual lives had destroyed their real lives. we all know people who had trouble with alcohol or hard drugs . if you look at this as an addiction is one tougher than the other.
>> i think we are all in the same boat. no one set out to become addicted to drugs, alcohol or computer games .
>> reporter: by the time brett walker came for treatment he hadn't showered for weeks was unemployed and says he had no friend.
>> i have a picture of you here?
>> describe the person i am looking at?
>> i wasn't a very happy person.
>> reporter: who took that?
>> i did. i don't know. one day i just decided. i just want to take a picture of what i look like now. that sweater, hadn't washed the sweateren months. i thought maybe seeing this would mote maivate me.
>> reporter: brett came to restart, addicted to world of war craft , involving millions of players that is designed to go on for infinity. he was considered one of the best in the country, and had been playing video games for 17 years. some times more than 12 hours a day.
>> at the risk of sounding crass is it fair to say that you were a winner online and a loser in real life ?
>> yeah. definitely. i mean that's sort of why i just stayed online all the time. and really, one of the reasons why i came up here was because i really had no self worth to begin with. i was so sad and depressed. i still saw what it did to my mom. i could just see her -- just being -- so sad. she didn't know what to do.
>> reporter: it's not just young men who get addicted. women do too. but they're more likely than men to get hooked on social networking games.
>> it is really difficult.
>> reporter: stacy is addicted to a simple, very popular card game , spades, and its chat rooms . a teacher and mother of two, she says she spends so much time in bed playing that game that it led to the end of her 18-year marriage and her husband kept the kids.
>> it did cost you your children?
>> yes, i did miss out on probably five years of their childhood.
>> reporter: is there a lot of technology there?
>> reporter: since opening in 2009 , restart treated over 500 patients. unlike other addiction programs, here, there is a focus on socializing. and ray says restart's facility was specifically constructed to integrate residents back into nature.
>> all of our offices actually have windows, all of the way around, so that, you slowly start, there is another world beside my four walls in my bedroom.
>> reporter: at nearly $400 a day, most residents can expect to pay over $40,000 for an average stay. and it is not covered by insurance.
>> tell me to totally quit out of the game.
>> what do you think?
>> i am willing to.
>> reporter: and today brett is logging out of world war craft for what he vows is the last time.
>> what do you think now?
>> i mean it feels like closure.
>> reporter: in a world where it is impossible to function without the internet, ray says it is particularly hard for addicts to break completely free. take chris , brooke mcsweeney's 17-year-old son back in indiana. she tells us he has improved with the help of a therapist in the months since we first visited back in uniform with his high school football team.
>> he hasn't gotten to play over the past three years due to his internet addiction . i am just, i am just so overjoyed. i am like, i want to cry, i am so happy.
>> reporter: but after the game, when his team mates went out to celebrate, chris chose not to go instead he retreated to his bedroom to be with his online friends.
>> he feels like they're there for him. they understand because they're -- they're addicts too. that's his family now.
>> wow. so, i came into this subject as a civilian not a doctor. but, thoroughly skeptical. i think we may be adding to the pile of addictions a little too quickly over the years. how about you?
>> i came in skeptical too. look, we talk about addictions. i came in skeptical. i came out a believer. because if you look at the brain scans, the same area where cocaine and heroin and sexual and -- gambling addicts, their brains light up. same thing for this. and they're rigged, these people are rigged to fail. for women, there is always one more online conversation . for men, playing these games, there is never a win or a loss. there is one more level. it is chasing infinity. and people mistakenly swap these online friends for the real deal . i think, we're just as a society catching up to the science.
>> interesting, interesting story. of course we have empathy for all those call the up in that.
>> we sure do.
>> thank you. guess where we have put more information on this story? if you were to guess on the web. you would be correct. that's