Share By Kathryn Doyle
Can you be addicted to oxygen? Water? Something as ubiquitous as… the Internet?
Turns out, yes. Because the Internet contains just about everything, you can become addicted to it in limitless ways. Some are obvious, like online porn, gambling or gaming addictions. But others come out of left field, like addiction to “social networking” or information overload addiction.
And yes, some people have needed medical attention for compulsively playing Solitaire or Minesweeper.
Whatever you do online, if it interferes with your daily life, work or relationships, you might have a problem – and medical science is here to help.
The first hospital inpatient treatment programin the U.S. opened in Bradford, Pennsylvania this fall.
Some may scoff at paying $14,000 for a 10-day “Internet detox,” but it’s really no laughing matter. Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and other East Asian countries have been home to “deaths from Internet overuse.”
The founder of the program, Dr. Kimberly Young, has opened several such centers in other countries over her 20 years of practice.
In her experience, net addicts get a high just like they would from actual drugs, Young said.
“The crux of treatment is to change or restructure their thinking on these issues,” she said, adding that she is trying to change the public opinion that the Internet can’t be addictive.
This may seem like a new field, seeing as the Internet itself is only a couple of decades old, but there are thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject already.
“In actual fact, there is a vast range of high-quality research now being done, all over the world, with at least four major journals solely dedicated to the field of ‘Internet psychology’,” Dr. Philip Tam said. Tam is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in Sydney, Australia and has extensively studied the issue.
“Important new developments emerge every month, and it is actually hard to keep abreast of everything,” he said.
For the inpatient program, patients are treated for ten days in a secure and locked unit in the hospital, separated from phones, computers and any Internet-enabled device. Young calls this “Digital Device Detoxification.”
Patients are treated by a multidisciplinary team including psychiatrists, licensed psychologists, certified addiction counselors, psychiatric nurses, social workers, mental health therapists, case managers and support staff.
Therapy takes place in seven to nine structured group sessions daily. Patients are gradually “re-integrated” with electronic media over the course of their stay.
After an initial 24-hour blackout period, patients have access to a landline courtesy phone for contacting loved ones for ten-minute intervals between 8:00 and 8:45 a.m.
“A key point here is that there are many similarities to gambling addictions, and also substance addictions, so aspects can be ‘borrowed’ from these treatment domains,” Tam said.
Young believes emphatically that her program works. But long-term treatment effectiveness for alcohol and gambling addiction is generally poor, Tam said. Being so new, the Internet addiction center may or may not be effective or cost-efficient, he said.
“It certainly appears, from the research emerging from North America and internationally, that there is a growing problem with Internet overuse in young people, and that centers such as this are needed,” he said.
But what if you’re married to your smartphone and you don’t have a cool $14,000 to drop on a padded cell? The Internet is such a pervasive aspect of life, is it possible to escape? Would you want to?
“It is clearly unfeasible for most people to fully ‘give up’ the Internet. The key is to tease out what might be ‘beneficial’ Internet usage,” Tam said.
“A key question that all problem users need to firmly put to themselves is: “am I in charge of what I do on the Internet, or is it actually in charge of me?”
Skilled Internet-savvy therapists, he says, can assist a client in their exploration of their ‘Internet inventory’ and help them achieve what industry insiders call a ‘healthy digital diet’.
“In only a few cases could we call it a true ‘addiction’ and for most it is a highly enjoyable, engrossing activity that is simply better (and easier) than ‘real world’ activities,” Tam said.