Such was the case for Van Cleave, who chronicled his experience in "Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction."
Van Cleave began gaming when he was a child.
"At college," he says, "I suddenly had a lot of unsupervised time. I started gaming exponentially more. If you don't study much, you have even more free time."
Eventually, Van Cleave reached a "crisis point," buried for up to 80 hours a week in World of Warcraft (a role-playing game in which you can "join thousands of mighty heroes in an online world of magic and limitless adventure.")
Van Cleave lost his job, some friends, and was barely able to save his marriage. "I pushed it awfully close to the line by not being available for a long time," he says.
"It was so obvious these things were happening, but I couldn't see it because I was knee-deep in the problem."
The foreword for Van Cleave's book was written by Dr. Mark Griffiths, a professor at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, who studies behavioral addictions in the School of Social Sciences. He says Internet addiction has five key criteria:
1. Salience: The Internet becomes the most important activity in the person's life, affecting feelings, behaviors and thoughts.
2. Mood modification: The person receives an emotional "buzz" from using the Internet.
3. Tolerance: The person becomes acclimatized, requiring increasing amounts of Internet time to get that "buzz."
4. Withdrawal symptoms: Abruptly ceasing Internet activity can cause the personal emotional or physical distress.
5. Relapse: The addict tends to fall back into the same behavior very easily, even after years of abstinence or control.
"When you see that behavior," says another recovering addict, Kevin Roberts, "it's only the tip of the iceberg. You're often going to find underlying issues."
In Roberts' case, the underlying mental health issues turned out to be ADHD and anxiety, which both went undiagnosed until his Internet addiction spun out of control.
It was good friends who had been through AA, dealing with addiction themselves, who recognized Roberts' categorical consumption with gaming had reached addictive proportions.
Unlike van Cleave, Roberts went on binges.
"I would go through periods when I wouldn't indulge," he says. Other times, he would play real-time strategy games for weeks at a time, at least eight to 12 hours a day. These binges were usually set off by an emotional trigger. "I would often be sleep-deprived, sometimes going a whole day or two without sleeping."
Roberts likened himself to a functional drunk.
"I held a job and paid my bills," he says. "I wasn't real successful at relationships, because of 'the screen,' but I didn't know that at the time."
While he was able to keep it together for a while, thanks in part to his being self-employed, Roberts eventually began to lose clients.