When Brad was 13, his parents bought him his first video game console. Every weekend he would binge on playing computerized games, day and night.
As a grown man, Brad says his addiction continued. He shares a story about the night before his wedding when at 4:30 a.m., his father knocked on his door, wondering why his son was still awake when he had to be up in less than three hours. Brad, of course, was playing video games.
"I look at the pictures from the wedding and think, what a waste. My life went out of control." says Brad.
But the worst was yet to come. Brad says he built up nearly $24,000 in debt, lost his career and had been lying to and deceiving his wife because of his gaming. When it all became too overwhelming, Brad attempted suicide by overdosing on prescription sedatives.
[AD]Brad survived the overdose and, at his psychologist's request, came clean with his wife about his problem.
Brad's wife declined to be on camera, but voiced her feelings in a videotaped segment. "Brad became more and more isolated, he didn't want to go out, and he also kind of isolated me from my friends. The suicide attempt was a big wake-up call," she shares.
Dr. Phil addresses the amount of money spent on video games, including systems, controllers and the actual games. According to Brad, most of his money went towards rebuilding the inside of his computer several times over so he could play newer games, faster.
On Thanksgiving Day 2001, Liz found her 21-year-old son Shawn dead in front of his computer while an online fantasy game was still on the screen.
"Shawn was living at home when he bought EverQuest. After three months of playing, he was depressed, he hadn't shaved, he was up all night, and he wasn't going to work, he just stayed in the house," says Liz.
"He couldn't express himself anymore. Thanksgiving was coming, so I [went] there go get him, and it was 10:00 in the morning. He didn't answer his door and I was worried, and then I broke in and there he was sitting on his chair in front of the computer, he had a rifle, and the computer game was on there."
In that moment Liz made the decision that she would start telling people what she knew about gaming addiction, and share her story with anyone who would listen. Soon, she founded On-Line Gamers Anonymous so she could provide others with the help she had so desperately needed.
Liz likens video game addiction to a drug. She recalls her son's disposition, noting that before the game, he was like any other young adult with a future, but within months of playing EverQuest, she says Shawn became antisocial, withdrawn and depressed.
[AD]Both Dr. Phil and Liz caution parents who use video games as babysitters to keep their children occupied. They encourage parents to take a realistic look at how many hours a day their children are spending in front of the computer.
"One in three kids happen on to pornographic sites while on the computer, one in 11 are harassed while in chat rooms, 16 percent say they would consider meeting someone in real life that they met on the computer and 69 percent say they get personal messages from the computer. There's a lot going on with the personal babysitter," adds Dr. Phil.
Dr. Phil asks Fred, a previous guest on the show, for his thoughts while listening to Brad's story and Liz's story about Shawn.
"It sounds like I could be headed that way. I just keep playing and playing," responds Fred.
Dr. Phil turns to Brad and asks, "That happened with you, right? You stopped caring about the things that you used to care about and started caring about things inside the game."
"Absolutely," Brad confirms. "You know, I''ve got so much in common with Fred, in the sense that I had a career. I mean, I''ve got a university degree. I''ve also got a wife who loves me. And I''ve got to say that to Fred. That Fred has got a wonderful wife and a family who love him. And I feel the same way about myself. But, in a sense, I became almost willing to give all of that up for the game. It''s just stupid."
[AD]Fred admits that before coming to the show, he may have chosen the game over his wife and children.
"So that should tell you that you''re in way too far," says Dr. Phil. "You know rationally, logically, as you sit here now in the bright light of day with us just talking with all candor that, that''s just crazy."
"It is crazy," confirms Fred.