Detox clinic for gamers


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Detox clinic opening for video addicts

By FIA CURLEY, Associated Press Writer

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - An addiction center is opening Europe's first detox clinic for game addicts, offering in-house treatment for people who can't leave their joysticks alone.

Video games may look innocent, but they can be as addictive as gambling or drugs — and just as hard to kick, says Keith Bakker, director of Amsterdam-based Smith & Jones Addiction Consultants.

Bakker already has treated 20 video game addicts, aged 13 to 30, since January. Some show withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking and sweating, when they look at a computer.

His detox program begins in July. It will run four to eight weeks, including discussions with therapists and efforts to build patients' interests in alternative activities.

"We have kids who don't know how to communicate with people face-to-face because they've spent the last three years talking to somebody in Korea through a computer," Bakker said. "Their social network has completely disappeared."

It can start with a Game Boy, perhaps given by parents hoping to keep their children occupied but away from the television. From there it can progress to multilevel games that aren't made to be won.

Bakker said he has seen signs of addiction in children as young as 8.

Hyke van der Heijden, 28, a graduate of the Amsterdam program, started playing video games 20 years ago. By the time he was in college he was gaming about 14 hours a day and using drugs to play longer.

"For me, one joint would never be enough, or five minutes of gaming would never be enough," he said. "I would just keep going until I crashed out."

Van der Heijden first went to Smith & Jones for drug addiction in October 2005, but realized the gaming was the real problem. Since undergoing treatment, he has distanced himself from his smoking and gaming friends. He says he has been drug- and game-free for eight months.

Like other addicts, Bakker said, gamers are often trying to escape personal problems. When they play, their brains produce endorphins, giving them a high similar to that experienced by gamblers or drug addicts. Gamers' responses to questions even mirror those of alcoholics and gamblers when asked about use.

"Many of these kids believe that when they sit down, they're going to play two games and then do their homework," he said.

However, unlike other addicts, most gamers received their first game from their parents. "Because it's so new, parents don't see that this is something that can be dangerous," Bakker said.

Tim, a gamer who is currently under treatment, agreed to discuss his addiction on condition of his last name not being used. He said he began playing video games three years ago at age 18. Soon he wouldn't leave his room for dinner. Later, he began taking drugs to stay awake and play longer. Finally he sought help and picked up other hobbies to occupy his time.

Symptoms of addiction are easy to spot, Bakker says. Parents should take notice if a child neglects usual activities, spends several hours at a time with the computer and has no social life.

Bakker said parents of game addicts frequently echo the words of partners of cocaine addicts: "'I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what it was.'"

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I think Tim's opinion from sums it up nicely.

I've been hearing a lot lately about this Video Game Rehab clinic opening up over in Europe. Mostly I'm hearing people laughing at it, talking about how ridiculous it is. I don't agree. I think it's a pretty good idea.

I think some people are so much on the defensive because of Jack Thompson's over-the-top blame-shifting, that when they hear anything negative about video games, they scoff outright. Video games don't cause addiction any more than they cause violence.

However, there are people out there with addictive personalities, just as there are people out there with violent tendencies. I know it may sound funny to you "Hah, who needs to detox from video game? Pfft!". As a non-alcoholic, sometimes it's hard for me to grasp the struggle that an alchoholic goes through. To not be able to take a single drink for fear of backsliding. "But it's so easy to just stop drinking when you've had enough" I think to myself. But for an alcoholic it's not easy.

I have to admit that I have been addicted to certain video games from time to time. It's never taken over my life, I've never shirked my responsibilities or my health just to play, but I can certainly see how a serious, detrimental addiction is possible. Especially in MMO's.

Video games can be an escape, in the same way that drugs and alcohol can be, but without the chemical dependency. For someone with depression issues, or no self-control, video games can becomes just as much a problem. We occasionally hear about people who played so much they didn't eat or sleep, and died as a result. Or someone who killed themselves because they didn't get the in-game item they wanted.

Video games don't cause addiction and they don't cause violence. If they did, we'd have near a 1:1 player/psychotic ratio, and we're nowhere close. As with any large community of people, there will always be a handful with some issues. Billions of people drink alcohol, but only a handful are alcoholics. Billions of people play sports, but only a handful use steroids. Billions of people play video games, but only a handful have ever murdered someone. It is the individual that brings the issue to the activity, not the activity that brings the issue to the individual.

However, on our crusade to educate people that video games are not the cause of our problems, it's important not to dismiss the members of the community that do have a problem, and do need help. I'd sooner see a video game rehab clinic, than read about some poor soul who couldn't control his playing habits, and had nowhere to turn for help. I'm surprised the first clinic didn't open up here in America, where over-indulgence is practically a lifestyle for most people.

Admitting that there are gamers out there that need help is not the same as admitting that video games are the cause violence or addiction.

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