Aaron Alexis, the gunman who recently killed 12 in the rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, played violent video games including Call of Duty for up to 16 hours at a time, which no doubt contributed to his evolution as a mass murderer.

A neighbor said Alexis was skilled at playing first-person shooting games online. Other friends recall that the games would last so long that they would often bring him food during his marathon times in front of the video screen. His father admitted that Alexis had anger management problems related to post-traumatic stress brought on by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

We also know that Alexis became so obsessed that he was was treated for mental illness. He reportedly told psychiatrists he heard voices in his head. Experts believe the computer games helped trigger a dark side that had previously landed him in trouble with the police on gun crimes.

The video game obsession has been a common thread among mass killers in recent years. Adam Lanza, who slaughtered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Mass. last December, is another who transitioned from video games to real world bloodshed. And in 2011, mass murderer Anders Breivik used the Call of Duty video game to sharpen his shooting skills before killing 77 people in Norway.

Of course, officials in the $16 billion-a-year video-game industry claim their products do not prompt violence.

"Entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world," the Entertainment Software Association said in January.

Internet addiction has become an epidemic and public health crisis in countries such as China, Korea, and Taiwan but only recently has it been recognized as a serious problem in the U.S. In May of 2013, "Gaming Disorder" was listed for the first time in a section of the manual of American psychiatric medicine, which requires it for further research before being formally identified as a disorder.

Another positive step is seen in Pennsylvania where the nation's first inpatient program for Internet addiction was recently launched by the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Allegheny County. Treatment consists of "an intensive 10-day digital treatment and stabilization program" which is intended for individuals 18 years of age and older who have been unsuccessful in overcoming Internet addiction on their own.

Dr. Kimberly Young, an internationally-renowned psychologist who founded the non-profit program, said the problem of Internet addiction in this country can be more pervasive than alcoholism, since it is "free, legal and fat free."

Young has been studying Internet addiction since 1995 and presented her first paper on the issue in front of the American Psychological Association in 1996. Back then, she said people laughed when she told them what she did.

Today, no one is laughing as Dr. Young is seeing her life's work become a reality that can help those in need of treatment.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com