More teens are being treated for what researchers are calling "Internet Gaming Disorder." Research and patient visits over the past few years have some doctors believing gaming addiction is a legitimate problem.
"They wake up in the middle of the night to game or they don't go to sleep because they are gaming. They are on the internet and cellphone, they're ditching school and they're not doing their homework. It leads to lots of conflict at home and arguing," said Dr. Christian Thurstone, Director of Addiction Services at Denver Health.
Dr. Thurstone said he first started hearing concerns about gaming addiction problems five years ago. Patients came in saying they couldn't stop being on the Internet. What started as simple texting on cell phones years back has now evolved into multi-player games where people can play against other players around the world, across their gaming consoles, computers and phones.
The recommended treatment for patients with "Internet Gaming Disorder" is 90 days away from the devices or technology they developed an addiction to. After that time, doctors said patients can be re-introduced to what devices they couldn't leave alone to see if further treatment is needed.
Most recently, a video game that hit the market last fall called Fortnite is pulling in teenagers by the millions. The game growing in popularity is so addictive, many teens can't put down their controllers or phones.
Dr. Thurstone said teens ages 16-17 are the most at risk for developing gaming addiction; Citing studies showing 5.5% of teens have problems with using the Internet too much and males are five times more likely to develop this type of addiction than females.
Dr. Thurstone also cited new research showing Internet gaming can light up the center of the brain that addictive drugs light up as well.
"There's a common pathway that lights up when people are using too much internet and using too much of a substance. You start to see there is the biological that starts to go along with what you see in front of you and you start to see that it's probably a real thing," said Dr. Thurstone.
Doctors said parents should step in if they notice their kids are spending a majority of their time gaming, especially if their usage is in the 8-10 hour range. Also, be aware if kids are giving up sleep, not caring about school or homework and becoming disconnected from friends and family. These are all warning signs they could be developing an unhealthy addiction to gaming. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of two hours of screen time per day.
Gaming communities can be a positive atmosphere when used in the right way. They bring friends together and create a fun activity. However, when the gaming becomes a priority and takes away from kids and teens having human contact, then doctors recommend parents stepping in and having a conversation about setting boundaries or seeking professional help.