Father of 4, teen unplug for weeks to break video gaming obsessions

Chris from Ohio and Josh from Michigan both were gaming for hours on end until experts intervened and helped them give up gaming.
3:00 | 05/20/17

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Transcript for Father of 4, teen unplug for weeks to break video gaming obsessions
It could be a growing addiction. Potentially stunting the development of children. One doctor uses the term "Digital heroin" to describe the compulsion to stare into screens for hours. Tonight you're about to see firsthand in family-made video diaries the devastating impact of digital obsession and the road to rehabilitation. Here's ABC's Elizabeth vargas. Reporter: Walk down any street, any mall, any hallway, everyone is bowing to their screen. Our devices are beeping, buzzing, begging us to swipe, like, love, tweet, retweet, send, reply, forward. But altal and Christina from Michigan think their 14-year-old son Josh has a real problem. They say he won't stop, can't stop, playing video games online. What's a typical day in Josh's life? Sleeping in till 11:00, 12:00. Then he would be on until like 1:00, 2:00 in the morning. 12 hours. Easily, easily 12. Yeah. Reporter: Josh says he's playing up to 60 hours a week. Josh has been in his room since 4:00, nearly five hours, gaming. Why didn't you just take the computer away? I don't understand. Because when we did take it away, there was a lot of problems in our house with his behavior. Reporter: They confiscate the computer. Shut down the wi-fi. Even remove the router and lock it in the car. Junior respo Josh responds by punching walls or worse. A lot of anger. Lots of anger. Emotional outbursts. Yeah. Sounds completely out of control. Yeah. It was. Josh, you need to get off. Okay. Duh. Reporter: Midnight. 1:00 A.M. 2:00 A.M. You know, it's after 3:00. And I told you to get off at 1:00. Stop! Reporter: Josh is part of a growing trend happening all over the world. What some call digital addiction. A hotly debated topic within the scientific community. You have used the term "Digital heroin." Really? Digital heroin? Is it that bad? Maybe there's some shock value to that, maybe I am trying to shock parents to say, this is a potentially addictive device. Be careful. Reporter: Josh begins skipping school. I don't care about school. Reporter: Al and Christina wonder if Josh's brain can give them clues as to what is wrong. They take him for a functional mri as part of a new study by Dr. David Rosenberg. His theory, yet to be proven, is that excessive gaming may change brain activity. You press the response pad for the letter "M." Reporter: Dr. Rosenberg highlighted areas in red he says represent brain activity involving memory, attention, and decision-making. Josh's brain scans are troubling. This is the brain processing center of the brain. There should be much more activity. There should be more red? More red. You looked at this and thought, this is a kid in trouble? This is a kid in trouble. Reporter: His parents decide to take a drastic step. It's kind of stupid. I just play video games and I have to go to rehab for it? Reporter: They send him into the Utah wilderness and a program called "Unplugged" at outback therapeutic expeditions. He and a group of boys will camp for weeks in this rugged terrain. There is no running water, no electricity, no screens. The only thing that glows in the dark, a campfire and the moon. Josh isn't the only one in need of intervention. But for this Ohio family the problem isn't the kids. It's the dad. Chris was still playing video games so we ended up coming to the park. Reporter: MARIA, 40 years old, attorney, mother of four. She's not a single mother. It just seems that way. She has a husband, Chris, aged 44. But on any given evening, he is down in the basement, taken prisoner by a pastime. You're done. How many hours a day does he spend playing games? He'll take a whole Saturday and go into the evening. From the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed. So 18 hours? Possibly. It's 2:00 A.M. And I just checked in on Chris. And he's still playing video games. Reporter: Ever since they got married, more than a decade ago, MARIA says Chris is often a no-show for much of their life. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm headed up to our family's football game. Chris opted not to play with us. He is going to be playing video games instead. Reporter: Chris works in I.T. When he gets home from work, there is a little bit of family time. It's tough, okay, go ahead and read out the problem. Reporter: Before going downstairs to play video games. I keep returning as this machine gun guy, I play terribly as this dude. Do you think you're addicted to these games? I'd say -- I'd say addiction is there. Reporter: Chris says he's considering cutting back. Quit for good? Never. I can't stop forever. That just seems like -- Even though you know that it hurts your wife and your children? Yeah. Every next thing I say will sound more and more like a scared addict. Reporter: Chris and MARIA are hoping for a game changer. We arrange for a house call from therapist Nick carderas, author of "Glow kids." My whole purpose is to find out where he's at on his addiction. Does he acknowledge it as a problem? Reporter: The first assignment, get the video games out of the house for 90 da. Are you willing to take this opportunity? Not next month. Yeah. I'll -- I'll step up. I'll try it. All right, here we go. Reporter: While MARIA looks on, Chris packs up his games and consoles. Weeks later, he returns to the basement at our request. I don't make it down here much. It's just -- kind of a place for the kids to play right now. Reporter: Visiting his former gaming closet triggers intense emotions. I was just tight in the chest. It's a little tough to think about even now. It's making me feel some feels right now. Reporter: He documents his struggle to stay out of the game, day by day. On day two of this 90-day detox, boredom, monotony, agitation. Reporter: Week by week. It is amazing. This probably is the first week game-free in -- years. Years and years. Reporter: Slowly it gets easier. Chris is out of the basement and killing it in the kitchen. One morning, several days earlier, MARIA recorded another video diary, her birthday. Imagine the surprise when I came downstairs to this. He got me a gift and beautiful flowers and a really nice card. I'm really feeling a lot of hope and just some happiness. Thanks so much. Yay. Reporter: At "Unplugged," outback therapeutic expeditions in Utah, Josh shows me how he and the other boys live. Carrying their few belongings in a homemade backpack. Building shelter. Preparing meals. Nothing gourmet. Out here, peanut butter is a delicacy. How is that going to help you in life, do you think? It's an example, like my anxiety. At first it was super hard for me to hike. Reporter: Learning to overcome physical challenges here is a lesson Josh can take with him and apply to life challenges back home. So you're learning to push yourself? Yeah. Are you worried at all about going home and falling back into your old habits? Yeah. Like I've had dreams at night where I'm just playing video games. It's kind of like scary when I wake up. Reporter: After ten weeks unplugged in the wilderness, time to go home. I guess I can sleep on in a warm bed instead of on the ground in a sleeping bag. Reporter: A big welcome in Michigan. His computer has been safely locked away. Welcome home. You still smell like sage. Reporter: His parents take Josh for a follow-up brain scan with Dr. Rosenberg. The mri results confirm his seemingly amazing transformation. What you can see here is, yeah, this is an oh wow effect. Same boy? Same boy. Before treatment, after treatment. What is that telling you? He was completely shut down. When we talked with him here, he was exuberant, a different child. Reporter: It's not the only change. Josh is happier. He feels taller. And with a new haircut, he's a different boy. That looks good. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Elizabeth vargas in

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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