The first hospital-based in-patient program in the United States to treat Internet addiction opens next week at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania.
If the Internet is ruining your life and yet you still can't pry yourself away from it, you might be a candidate for admission to Bradley Regional Medical Center.
The Pennsylvania medical facility next week is opening an in-patient treatment and recovery program for people with "Internet addiction."
Penn. hospital offers 'digital detox'
The "digital detox" program at the acute care hospital's Behavioral Health Services unit involves a 10-day stay within a secured and locked unit. Patients will be cut off from Internet use for days and will be treated by a multidisciplinary team that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, nurses and social workers.
While treatment programs, online chat and phone counselors and even retreat centers for obsessive Internet users have been around for years, Bradford Regional bills its program as the first hospital-based in-patient treatment facility of its type in the United States.
Kimberly Young, a psychologist and internationally recognized expert on online addiction, is the program's medical director. She has been quoted as saying that Internet addiction "is a problem in this country that can be more pervasive than alcoholism."
Young told MSN News that cases of "IA" will rise with the proliferation of smartphones and connected mobile devices.
"Mobile devices make this especially hard to treat. I had one woman who was in a car accident five times because she was texting while driving and completely addicted," Young said. "It is all about access, not the Internet — it is the escape and experience and the high that someone gets when they are online."
Dr. David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut's School of Medicine, estimates that 5 percent to 6 percent of the U.S. online population is addicted — they use it to the point that it has some deleterious consequence on their life, be it their schoolwork, family relationships or work performance, and they have withdrawal symptoms when they stop using it.
"For every person that meets the criteria for addiction there are 10 to 20 times the number of people using and abusing it with less significant consequences," said Greenfield, who treats 20-30 patients a week for Internet-related problems in his private practice.
"The biggest growth area right now in Internet access is through the smartphone. Everybody is going to have an Internet portal in their pocket 24/7. All that does is increase the addiction potential," he said.
Greenfield and other experts noted that the problem appears more pervasive in some Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan, where the rate of digital and wireless penetration is high and where a generation of youth bides its time in dingy cyber cafes that stay open all night.
To tackle the problem, Japan recently announced it will open "fasting camps" that will separate children from their computers, smartphones and gaming consoles. In South Korea, where police in 2010 arrested a couple who allegedly let their baby starve to death while they obsessively played an online fantasy game, schools reportedly plan to teach children at a younger age about the dangers of abusing the Internet.
In the United States, there is no consensus of how pervasive Internet addiction is. In part, that's because it's not listed as an official psychiatric disorder in the fifth and latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Dr. Allen Frances, a psychiatrist who headed the task force that produced the fourth revision of the DSM, said the diagnostic label of "Internet addiction" has the hallmarks of a fad and is being applied too broadly when relatively little is known about the problem.
"Tens of millions of people are spending a lot of time on the Internet — some for recreational purposes, some for work purposes. That has to be distinguished from the small number of people who are compulsively attached to their computers and are no longer getting any value out of it," Allen told MSN News.
"The problem of broadening the concept and making foggy the boundaries is that the term will spread like wildfire as a way of characterizing tens of millions of people who are dependent on it but are not addicted to it."
Kevin Roberts, a self-proclaimed "recovering video game addict," insists Internet addiction is real. Roberts, now 44, says he wasted away years of his life glued to the computer screen. He detailed his struggle in the book " Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap."
"Yes, there are people for whom excessive screen-oriented behaviors rise to the level of an addiction," Roberts told MSN News. "For me, the binges engaged in caused me to lose clients in my business, and I felt really bad when that happened, but still engaged in the excessive behaviors."
Hospital treatment facilities like the one opening at Bradley Regional Medical Center weren't around then, and Roberts said it took him years of therapy following a program similar to those used for other addictions to finally get a handle on his problem.
Young said Internet addiction will only become more pervasive in the United States as wireless devices multiply.
"I have had people suffer from blood clots in their legs from sitting too long in one position at the computer. We are already getting many calls from patients seeking this treatment, so yes the problem will only become larger as devices are more portable and the Internet is more accessible," she said.
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