Trapped by an internet 'addiction,' obsessed surfers seek rehab help
By Ami Schmitz and Jessica HopperRock Center
Brett Walker says he knew he was hooked to using his computer when his virtual life nearly destroyed his real life. He was unemployed, had started to neglect his personal hygiene and says he had no friends all because of his online game of choice, “World of Warcraft.”
“Whenever I went online, it really was like getting high on a drug,” said Walker in an interview with Dr. Nancy Snyderman. “I mean, I would log in and I could just feel the dopamine start coming as soon as I was typing in my password and stuff, just waiting for it to log in.”
Walker, 28, said that he started playing online games when he was 11. By his early twenties, the Texan devoted up to 16 hours a day to “World of Warcraft,” a game that has millions of players around the globe. As he got better at the game, he said, his life away from his keyboard crumbled.
Rock Center with Brian Williams Thursday at 10pm/9c on NBC: Internet addiction: Is it real?
Was Walker suffering from a true addiction to the Internet or just a bad habit? An emerging area of research has developed to study those who are obsessed with logging on to the World Wide Web. Scientists say brain scans of heavy Internet users reveal changes in both the size of certain parts of the brain as well as its function. They say it is possible to become addicted to the Internet.
“The new research, whether it's imaging research or genetic research or other kinds of research, [is] pointing to a biological disposition, something in our biology that makes it easy for us to fall in love with a video game or with the Internet. And for a proportion of us, this love affair can start looking like an addiction,” said Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, who runs Stanford University’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and Impulse Control Disorders Clinic and recently completed one of the largest studies to examine how common problematic Internet use is in the United States.
“When we talk about problematic Internet use, one common complaint is that there's nothing really different about it, that it's similar to, you know, when radio first came around or TV or even novels,” Aboujaoude said. “But I really do believe the Internet is different. It's different in that it engages you a lot more. You're immersed in it. It talks back to you. It's also different in terms of its penetrance, how incredibly common it is and how much access we have to it.”
Aboujaoude's research found that up to 13 percent of Americans experience some degree of negative impact from overuse of the Internet.
“Examples of this negative impact include things like damage to their personal lives because of their online patterns of use or feeling, that they cannot go for an extended period of time without logging in and that in and of itself has negative consequences,” he said, adding that other countries, such as China, have made the study of excessive use of electronic media a priority.
Visit NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams to view the full news piece which airs November 8, 2012