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.

Ugly, lurking memories and experiences that he’d suppressed for years were now coming forward. It was too much for him. The stress was physically sickening.   Of course, I couldn’t know all that. I just knew that all my husband wanted was the X-box. It caused numerous fights and was driving a wedge between us. Oh how I dreamed about running that thing over with my car, or throwing it off a cliff. The Halos, Skyrim, Black Ops and now Destiny.
His “hobby” had morphed into something so real and so all-encompassing that I often feared I was losing him. Hours on end, day in and day out…the thing that started as a mere pastime had become more important than me to him. More important than watching our daughter grow up.  More important than holding a job. More important than pursuing his degree. 

Now, Xbox Was The Most Important Thing 

Meanwhile, I was becoming physically exhausted and emotionally drained. I worked. I paid the bills. I cleaned the house. I tended the baby. I did the shopping. I did the cooking. I barely slept.  But at times the Xbox was more important to him than eating or sleeping. This was one of those times. 

Shawn had been making an effort at least. He was on an SSRI to help with moods, and another medication that kept his migraines at bay. He’d just started school again (after taking 2 semesters off). We’d finally gotten the ADHD diagnosed. He was on a medication that was working for him, and helping him focus in class.  I was finally gaining hope. 

This just made it twice as disappointing when I came home that morning to find he’d been playing all night.

I knew then that I’d not be able to sleep. The baby would be waking up soon and I’d be the one tending her. Not that he wouldn’t offer. He always had good intentions—he just couldn’t live up to them. He’d fall asleep on the job, the job of taking care of our baby. I knew it and he knew it. So, I’d let him sleep first.

This was my life. No sleep, no sleep, no sleep. I’d be lucky to catch 2 hours while the baby took her afternoon nap and then maybe he’d let me grab an hour more once he woke up. Of course, during that hour he’d likely put on “Frozen” so he could keep her occupied while he played on his Xbox. 

All that is what I anticipated would take place again. But this time, it didn’t happen. This time, he shocked me. This time, he made my world a better place.

In my dismay, arriving home to that flickering glow, I’d dropped my elbows and head down onto the kitchen counter. I was trying to calculate whether I had room in my system for more caffeine than I’d already consumed at work. Normally, I’d go talk to him, tell him I was home, maybe ask him what the living hell he was doing still playing, but I was too exhausted. I wasn’t in the mood to fight. I thought maybe if I was lucky I could get 30 minutes or so of sleep before our daughter woke up. 

And Then He Surprised Her

All of a sudden I heard the TV turn off. He walked in to greet me.

“Hi Bunny.” he said. I hadn’t heard my pet-name in a while.

“Hi.” I said. “You’re still up.” I probably sounded angry.

“Yeah. I was thinking,” he said.

He paused. “Yes?” I prompted.

“This thing [Xbox] is wasting my life. I’m missing everything, I can’t get any homework done, we’re always angry at each other...I want to go shooting.”

The last line seemed irrelevant. “Shooting?”

“I want to put a freaking bullet in the stupid Xbox.”

I didn’t even know how to respond. For a moment I thought I was imagining things. How often had I imagined myself doing exactly that? How many times had I said exactly what he was saying? How many times had he not listened to me? 


"We Made a Date of It" 


To my complete delight and surprise, he actually followed through! My dad owns shotguns that we were able to borrow. We made a date of it. He took me to dinner and we drove up the mountain to a remote location and both shot it at the same time. I’ve never been so relieved as when that thing blew to pieces. 

We kept the disc-drive, which has a single shot directly through the center, as a souvenir. The plan is to mount it in a shadowbox with the shot gun shells and the word, “Overcome.”

To me, this marks the end of an ugly era and the start of a bright new one. It’s only been two weeks since the execution, but things are looking way up. 

We kept the disc-drive, which has a single shot directly through the center, 
as a souvenir. The plan is to mount it 
in a shadowbox with the shot gun shells and the word, “Overcome.”

We’ve gone out to do something with our daughter every day since, as a family. Even just trips to the grocery store or parks together are enjoyable. He keeps commenting on how he forgot how much time that days actually have in them and that he's shocked when the sun doesn't just come up, then go down several moments later.  

He helped me clean the house. He worked on our car. He’s run errands. He caught up in his classes. He’s been on time. He actually changed his phone number so that his Xbox friends couldn’t get a hold of him and recruit him to play. “I know I’d find a way if the mission was interesting enough” he said.

We still have a ways to go, and this wasn’t an overnight change. This was the result of nearly 2 years of finding the correct medications, counseling with professionals and allowing him to grieve the losses of his past, his family, and his diagnosis. Most importantly, he had to decide for himself that the change needed to be made.

Not a word I said even swayed him. So many times I threatened to make him leave. Told him I didn’t need him. I was so angry that I oftentimes wished he would leave. But even stronger than the anger was always the pleading; with myself, with God—to grant him and I the strength to get through this on the same team!

Right as I was ready to give in and decide I couldn’t live like this anymore, he made the decision. But that’s just it. It had to be him to make the change. Not me.

Huge thanks to Kate for sharing this story with us. We both hope that it serves to inspire others who might be in similar circumstances to "overcome."

How about you? Do videogames play a role in your relationship? And does that role work for or against the relationship and functioning in the rest of life?

For more information on ADHD, please visit the website for the national non-profit CHADD.

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Gina Pera


  1. How do I as a parent of a 16 year old head that off at the path. That's all my son does is play his playstation 4 AND at the same time has games loaded onto the computer and plays all evening with his friends. it makes me angry!! But I feel I have no control over stopping the obsession.

    1. Hi there,

      You obviously still have some control. He's 16 and presumably you support him.

      But it's not just a matter of "control." It's a matter of understanding why he's doing this.

      Is his ADHD poorly treated and managed? Does he have little else to do? Does he have friends to socialize with?

      For some people with ADHD, the games are addictive, but they also provide an escape.

  2. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU for posting that. I have a young adult family member with ADHD who is coming out of a bipolar depressive episode and who is completely stuck in this online video gaming world. I am sharing the story in hopes they can see a bit of their self in it and hopefully want to change!

    1. You're most welcome! I'll pass along your thanks to Kate, who wrote the piece. Best of luck!

  3. Wow, yes, that is exactly what my life had been like. Everything was fine in the first years of our marriage, until events (health issues, birth of a child, being laid off) made life too stressful for him to deal with and he escaped into the online world. This is when I found out that that is where he was before I met him. I had only briefly given him a reason to engage in life, only to have him retreat back there when life got overwhelming. Anti-depressants (when he chose to take them) didn't help much. We didn't know about the ADHD and other issues. I ended up living with a person who had a compulsive addiction and nothing else mattered. He refused to participate in family activities, share in household responsibilities, follow through with commitments, or develop any parenting skills. I could not leave the children with him for any length of time without coming home to world war III. I, too, was emotionally and physically drained, living in a nightmare world where I could swear, someone took my wonderful husband and replaced him with a changeling. The relationship became a cycle of briefly getting better, followed by a slide into complete withdrawal into the addiction. I began to understand what was going on after my eldest was diagnosed with ADHD and Aspergers. We looked at the report and I remarked, "this is all exactly like you." So we got him diagnosed. He can't take ADHD meds because of high blood pressure, so he chose to manage it with technology (a series of very expensive Android phones that he uses for, yes, gaming, but also using the online calendar and notification system.) He finally started taking personal responsibility for some things, like keeping track of time and appointments. Unfortunately, he never got to the part about being willing to give up the gaming and other online activities and to participate in family life. He would scream at the kids the minute he walked in the house and then retreat into his room and close the door for the rest of the night, coming out only to eat. After putting up with this for far too long, we finally walked out 4 years ago, hoping that would give him the push he needed to take responsibility for himself at least, and decide to change his lifestyle. Unfortunately, he did not. We stopped going to visit at the family home 2 years ago when the house was overrun with mice because he was always leaving food and dirty dishes out, and he did nothing about it. I set traps and got rid of them, then helped him sanitize. Then they came back and he again did nothing about it and I gave up. I couldn't have the kids in that environment. And it went downhill from there. We are now in the middle of a divorce, and while I am very sad that it has come to this, it's also a relief to get out of the nightmare. I see our kids spending a lot of time plugged in, but in that case, I make sure they know that life (and chores) come first. The gaming and obsessive reading are for leisure time. I've got them involved in social activities and sports, so they can't withdraw completely. What I have to say to others who are also living like this is that I agree wholeheartedly with Kate. Change has got to come from the person with the addiction. But sometimes it does not, and will not come. At some point, you've got to say "I love you, but the kids and I don't deserve to be treated like this. We deserve better." It really is just like living with a drug addict or domestic violence. No matter how much your partner says "but I love you," you have to look at their actual behavior and decide whether anything is really ever going to change. You have to have the strength to advocate for your own needs too and be willing to walk out. You deserve a life, too.

    1. You wrote:

      No matter how much your partner says "but I love you," you have to look at their actual behavior and decide whether anything is really ever going to change. You have to have the strength to advocate for your own needs too and be willing to walk out. You deserve a life, too.


      Absolute wisdom here. Thank you.


  4. I have a 14 year old son who plays on his game systems, iPad, laptop, phone...anything he can find that has screens. His mood is impacted. He wants to hang out with friends but doesn't reach out. He is under the care of a psychiatrist for meds, and the meds seem to be working for the most part. I wonder if we are missing another component in treating his ADHD and anxiety.

    1. If you can find some behavior therapy, that might be a good idea.

      He might be dealing with emotions by "escaping" to a screen.

      Or, he might have trouble organizing himself and initiating other activities. So, he might need help identifying some new interests and getting involved.


  5. It's hard to be a gamer since a majority of them are males. I'm grateful I found someone "addicted" to games as much as I am and we both have ADHD. Being in the same room or giving each other space just never seems offensive or uncaring to us and chores get done too. I don't know how we do it since we're supposed to be inattentive mistakes in life, but we do it. I'm not even medicated and I do it. I think it boils down to learning sometimes. I've seen what my lack of respect has done before and I learned my lesson and became more attentive. I thought it was impossible without meds, that's what everyone says (not that I always believe everything everyone says, but the stereotypes are just comical), but somehow we do it. I can't explain it other than I refuse to be one of nature's mistakes I guess. I know that's what I am, but I don't have to live like one

  6. HI Sam,

    I completely concur. These devices are like "crack" in the hands of some people with poorly managed ADHD.

    I used to be a newspaper's managing editor, so I know the importance of keeping up with current stories. I used to read the paper (old-fashioned, I know!) over breakfast. I didn't have the paper delivered to my bed. Thank goodness!

    To paraphrase, "Extraordinary devices demand extraordinary vigilance."

    We let them control us at our peril.

    Maybe you can talk seriously with your wife, if not about her habit, but about your daughter's. Setting up a child with ADHD for addictive behaviors it not a sign of effective parenting. Strong words, but I've seen the consequences.

    Your daughter's habits could be seriously interfering with her sleep patterns. Sleep is already challenge enough with ADHD, and her brain is developing.

    Good luck in taking a stand on this, Sam.



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