Video games: Dangers of addiction

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – You may remember, several months ago, we told you about the dangers of your kids playing online games with strangers. After seeing that report, a viewer called 12 with another concern -- she says her son was addicted to video games.

She wanted other parents to be aware of the problem. Gray Hall investigated and found out it's an addiction that could be deadly.

By all accounts, Shawn Woolley was your typical, active, happy go lucky kid. Liz Woolley, his mother says, "He was really into the creative side of life and he wanted to make people laugh and he wanted people to like him."

She spoke to NBC12 via SKYPE from her home in Pennsylvania. She says she began to notice a change in her son. He became withdrawn and only wanted one thing -- play video games. The older he got, the worse the problem became, she was convinced, he was addicted.

His game of choice was one called EverQuest. Liz says, "He didn't care about what was going to happen in his life in the future, all he cared about was playing the game."

Things never got better. She tried to get help but says most professionals didn't accept that gaming was an addiction.

Eventually, Shawn, at the age of 20, lost his battle with the addiction. "After struggling with him for a year in a half, he ended up committing suicide in front of the computer with that game on it and I found him on Thanksgiving Day," his mother told us.

Heartbroken, Liz was determined to prevent other parents from re-living her nightmare. She started an organization called Online Gamers Anonymous. It's a place where people can share their stories and get help.

She says, "I am sure that he is supporting me up in heaven because I get signs from him a lot, just keep going don't give up."

Joel Elston is a gambling addict in recovery. Looking back, he says it may have all started while he was playing an arcade game.

He says, "I spent nearly $200 one weekend in quarters playing that game." Elston is now Director of Williamsville Wellness in Hanover County. The organization deals primarily with gambling addiction. It uses several therapy method like art therapy -- and even exercise to deal with addiction.

Joel says there are several outcomes for addicts. "Prison, insanity, death or recovery," he told us. He says he has seen gaming addiction destroy lives and says gaming and gambling addiction are similar. "They are basically classified as impulse control disorders. It is an inability to stop a particular behavior that is causing problems in your life," he explained.

It's a rather new phenomenon but expert say it's a growing concern. Elston says, "We are talking a very small percentage, most of the people at some point wake up and say, wait a minute, I am really playing too much video games but for that few, as the lady who lost her son, it can take it to the very end."

There are some ways to tell if someone has crossed the line into addiction. Some warning signs include performance dropping at work or school, grades slipping, even a change in hygiene. "They realize they can't live without the game and they realize they have not life with it so either way they are sort of trapped," Elston says.

Before you blow off gaming addiction as a non-issue -- Liz says think about her son Shawn. The organization she created has already helped thousands of people. She says, "I didn't want his life to be in vain and I really feel because of his death, that so many people are for the better because of it." Woolley hopes this story is a wake up call for parents and adults that sometimes, gaming -- is not just for fun.

More signs that could mean you have crossed the line into gaming addiction are: skipping meals just to play, becoming secretive or defensive about playing, preferring gaming over intimacy with a loved one, and jeopardizing a relationship, job or educational opportunity just to play.

You can find more information about gaming addiction and ways to get in the links below.

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