Saturday, March 14, 2015

To Save Their Marriage, They Shot His Xbox—with a Gun

Xbox addiction
Xbox, post shooting

It’s true. They took it out and shot it. That’s the real photo above. Below, the wife in the couple tells their story, providing a personal glimpse into the complex reasons why some adults with ADHD get hooked into cyber-addictions.

A little background first.

About a decade ago, I wandered into a World of Warcraft support group (for the partners of the players). I didn’t know much about the game. My husband (the one with ADHD in our marriage) played Starcraft briefly, until I pointed out that it always made him mean as a snake. Actually, I should say that he was fine while he was playing it, but once he stopped…look out! It reminded me of the stereotypical addict’s withdrawal. Fortunately, he agreed and we threw the thing away.

But the way these people in that support group described their gaming partners’ behavior, it surely sounded a lot like ADHD. Did they want to hear about this possibility? A resounding and vehement “No!”

Granted, not everyone who plays videogames compulsively and with adverse effects has ADHD. But we know enough now about the dopamine reward system to know this: People with ADHD are more vulnerable to developing addictions of all types, and that includes to electronics and gaming. We talk about this a lot in the Silicon Valley Adult ADHD Discussion group that I've co-moderated for 10 years, for CHADD of Northern California. (Free and open to the public.)

Moreover, people with ADHD might also be more vulnerable to the “escape” offered by electronics and games (see this previous post by Kevin Roberts, an adult with ADHD who wrote the book CyberJunkies).

If excessive videogaming and electronics usage is eroding your relationship, it might be a good idea to give this topic long, hard thought.

Now, let’s get to the story from a friend I’ll call Kate.

Why We Shot the Xbox

By Kate
It felt so good to finally take off my shoes that morning. It had been an especially long night-shift at the hospital. As much as I adore working as a nurse, 12 hours on my feet leaves me ready to crash by the time I get home.

From the garage, I reached around the corner into the kitchen to hang up my car keys. Then I saw it: the ominous glow flashing from the living room. It shouldn't have surprised me. Following the source of the glow, I found him. Right where I’d left him. That glow streamed from the bane of my existence; the Xbox 360.

The Xbox became a problem less than a year into our marriage. My husband was just too good at it. The speed at which he could boost his rank in whatever game he was playing proved gratifying to the point of addiction for my husband. It started out as a hobby, after he became sick.

Later, we’d find out that his symptoms—including constant migraine headaches, chronic nausea, flu-like body pains and IBS—were mostly due to depression and PTSD (all magnified by his ADHD). But we didn’t know that then. We thought he was just ill.

Did he need his gallbladder removed? Was it celiac? An allergy? We didn’t know. While the tests continued, mostly all he could muster the energy to do was play Xbox. Actually, this was a hobby he’d participated in throughout high school but had given up in order to pursue “life”: a career, a wife, a family.  

A 6-Star Husband When They Were Newlyweds 

He had been a 5-star boyfriend for 2 years and a 6-star husband when we were newlyweds. He was so excited when we found out we were expecting our first child and would have gone to the ends of the earth to spoil the baby and I. “My girls,” he’d calls us.

In hindsight, all of the “sickness” seemed to arise when things started getting ugly with his parents and siblings. His parents were splitting up. Everyone was fighting. Everything was falling apart. I’d later learn that, all throughout his childhood, he had fought diligently to keep his family together and now felt he was watching everyone tear apart his life’s work. He was utterly broken.