What resources are there for internet/gaming addiction recovery?
February 22, 2015 8:46 PM   Subscribe

A family friend needs help. Over the last few years he's been sinking more and more of his life into MMORPGs and internet time wasting. He's socially isolated -- no friends, low social skills. He was a pretty normal, fun kid up until about 15. He's in the midst of flunking out of his freshman year of college (after an in-between year spent similarly wasted).

I see this kind of compulsiveness as a symptom of other problems: he's forgotten how to enjoy other things, he's forgotten how to take interest in other people, and he has super low self-esteem. He has poor role models. I had hoped he would fix himself with some exposure to college life, but he chose the least socially threatening dorm possible -- all international students -- and I get the impression that he avoids everyone.

I'm not his guardian, but if I were, what could I do to help him? His parents are looking to me for guidance.

I see this website for a retreat: http://www.netaddictionrecovery.com/

But it seems way too slick. There is no pricing information and the management team (which I had to dig around for) is super traditional. A big part of the reason AA and drug rehab works IMO is that the people who are there to help you have been where you are before. I think this young man will see right through these people, so I have little faith they can help him.

What other options are there? This must be becoming more common.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This happened with my closest friend. He's not addicted to the internet or gaming, though he is a gamer and now he as a rich social life that includes miniature wargames (were you go to a game store and play with other people in person) and his own art and a wide array of interests. What happened was in his sophomore year of college he had a breakdown and went what he calls "nuts", dropped out, and didn't get diagnosed for many years with crippling social anxiety. He's in therapy and on medication now. I've been very close with him the whole time and the person he is now is the person we all figured he was becoming when he was a teenager, but didn't. It took over a decade. It didn't have to take that long.

Some people can't fix themselves. Some people are sick, and there are many different methods of treatment. I think you can best help your friend by helping him access therapy for social anxiety and go from there. Online gaming is something some people use as a faulty patch, not the source of the problem.
posted by Mizu at 9:07 PM on February 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would look into local doctors or medical offices for treatment instead of a website. I still say MMOs/games are addictive the same way gambling is but it's more a symptom of a larger issue. For example, I have met people who were weirdly devoted to their characters but majority of time it was not such much the game's fault but their overall dissatisfaction with life.

There's fairly extreme methods like going cold turkey but then again it could be easily replaced with some other unproductive hobby too. Before making a appointment it helped me to define what I disliked about my current lifestyle and what I wanted to change vs I-hate-everything scenario.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:16 PM on February 22, 2015

Traditional medical and psychological treatment for depression and associated issues first, up to inpatient treatment if necessary. Don't let the gaming be a red herring - his problems will not be fixed simply by going offline for a week. Depression is not "becoming" more common, it is common. There are treatments.

Yes, eventually, as a part of his treatment he's going to have to stop the MMOs - for a lot of people they are simply not something they are able to use in moderation because they are designed to be abusable - but you have to shore up the depression with its compulsive life-avoidance first, and that stuff becomes significantly less compulsive when you are feeling better. Do not blame the games, it turns you into one of those people who blames "devil music" for suicide.

This is a hard, hard time for a lot of kids - puberty shifting into final gear, a big last rush of brain development, massive social upheaval, independence thrust on them when they're not emotionally ready. Be careful what narrative you're framing for the parents - he's not choosing this or forgetting to be normal, he's not a failure for not fixing himself, this is not a fancy new designer issue that he has fallen prey to. They should have intervened a long time ago and gotten him some help because they are the grownups - and now he's probably old enough that he can say no to treatment and they're probably going to have to make some hard decisions about his schooling and lifestyle support.

When I nosedived at 18, my parents sort of ineffectually pinged around and tried manipulating me with all these weird interventions I wasn't supposed to notice they were doing, and then finally let me go to therapy but shamed me so badly for it (like, I got in trouble for writing a check for therapy, because then someone "might figure it out") that I couldn't really engage in the process. They need to step in directly with him and engage with him honestly as a co-decision-maker, but understanding that yelling at him to be better is not a solution, he's not capable of fixing this himself.

They might consider booking a couple of appointments with a therapist local to them just to get educated about what options they should consider in terms of angle of attack. Now is not the time for armchair degrees, the stakes are too high, and they may have very unrealistic expectations about boostraps and the up-pulling of oneself with same (tip: you can't pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, you can only put your boots on). He could die from this, they need to start taking it seriously.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:32 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do you think he could be suffering from depression or anxiety issues? I don't play games much these days, but when my depression flares up (as it's doing now), I find myself using games as a way to distract myself for a few hours at a time. I'll even become interested in the game outside of directly playing it - watching streams of the game, reading about strategy, that kind of thing.

I'm very aware that this is a coping mechanism that would probably get out of hand if I let it, but I have a 9-5 job that means it can only take up so much of my time. If I was in this person's situation I could imagine myself very easily getting into a scenario that resembled 'gaming addiction'. If he his using games as an escape, then getting him away from them isn't going to help if he doesn't address the underlying problems first - which, remember, he may not be aware of yet.
posted by anaximander at 2:37 AM on February 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Gaming may be the only real pleasure in his life right now. He can play a character which lacks his perceived faults and interact with "friends" who don't threaten him the way those outside his game do. The solution isn't to remove his only safe place but to make the real world safe for him. Group therapy is a good way to attempt that because there is interaction with others in a protected environment.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Everyone I know who had a problem with MMOs (and I know a lot of them; I worked in the industry, and yes, we all use our own products) had serious depression issues (and anxiety, for most of them) and their MMO addiction didn't go away until they dealt with the underlying problems. The MMOs aren't the problem, they're a usually-unsuccessful attempt at finding a solution. I agree with everyone else that this is a problem requiring therapy, and furthermore, it'll require him *wanting* to go to therapy.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:41 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

McLean Hospital outside Boston has a gaming addiction practice, it's also a research hospital so it may be cutting edge.
posted by sammyo at 11:45 AM on February 23, 2015

I think those games can be addictive on their own, particularly for some personalities, but in my experience, most severe gaming addictions have a mental health component as well. If that's true here, it'll be a lot more effective to start with that underlying cause rather than targeting the symptom of excessive gaming - which is often a coping mechanism making life feel more tolerable.

In addition to depression (probably the most likely cause, especially given your description of him "forgetting" how to enjoy other things in life) and anxiety, ADHD is another mental health angle to investigate. Lots of people with ADHD struggle to contain their gaming/internetting to levels that don't interfere with their life, even with games that aren't designed to be addictive like MMORGs are. Especially as teens/young adults. Ask me how I know...
posted by randomnity at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds like my depression problems in college, yep. I used games, books, and tv to avoid having to go outside. I could sometimes make it outside, but it always seemed like a step forward then two back and one sideways and maybe one forward sorta dance till I was ready to really work on therapy at 25. I probably should have gotten on meds.

Also, if you/he can talk to the college and find out what sort of doctors paperwork the college needs, the failing semester can often be expunged/put incomplete/somehow not held against him due to health issues- and many/most colleges firmly count depression in that heading.
posted by Jacen at 1:32 PM on February 23, 2015

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