AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - An addiction centre is opening Europe's first detox clinic for video 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 multi-level games that aren't made to be won.
Bakker said he has seen signs of addiction in children as young as eight.
About a dozen clinics already exist in the United States and Canada, and even one in China, as excessive gaming increasingly is being recognized worldwide as an ailment requiring treatment.
Elizabeth Woolley, who founded the Safe Haven halfway house for addicted gamers in Harrisburg, Pa., welcomed the idea that treating addicts is spreading to the Netherlands.
"Thank God that somebody has finally recognized this is an issue," she said.
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.
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."'
(PERSONAL THOUGHT; I wonder if the orthopedic surgeons are making any money on these addicts...putting their thumbs back in alignment with the rest of their hand, carpal tunnel repair. Optomitrists might make some bucks too. And then there are the hair stylists. If a person isn't leaving their "toys" long enough to do anything else, they must not take care of things like keeping their hair cut??? Maybe there should also be a massage center for the players. Shoot, I can see an alternative center; one that provides all of these services WHILE you play Game Boy. For nutrition, Ensure could be put in one of those caps you see at the games...you know the one; they usually hold beer and have two plastic lines coming into your mouth. )
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