View attachment 45520 For Charlie, it was clear that rehab was necessary when, after months of obsessively playing a smartphone game called Spirit Lords, her mother called her at college worried that she had taken up gambling. Her savings account was drained. Multiple overdraft notices had arrived at her parents’ house. Over five months, she had blown $8,000 on “spirit upgrades” and in-app purchases like rare weapons to help her beat the game.
“I thought that at some point I would probably stop and say, ‘This is enough.’ But it didn’t happen,” Charlie* told me. “That was a sign to my family and myself that I had an addiction.”
But 19-year-old Charlie wasn’t just addicted to Spirit Lords. Screens ruled her life. She spent hours on Tumblr talking to people she’s never met that she counts as her “closest friends.” She idled on Reddit. She chatted in forums. She Skyped. Online was where she felt most herself.
“My mom had been saying for years that I spent too much time online,” said Charlie, who wears her hair in a close-cropped pixie cut and usually speaks in absolutes. “But I could defend myself: I was making friends, I was learning, I was staying up to date with the news.”
But Charlie’s online time was taking a toll on her offline life. In high school, her grades had begun to slump. Now she was failing classes in her first semester of college. She needed help.
So, in June, she checked into reSTART, an internet addiction rehab center in rural Washington State.
The center is 25 miles east from Seattle, a drive that takes you through the suburb of Bellevue, past Microsoft’s home in Redmond, and then onto a desolate stretch of Route 202 that is just miles and miles of evergreens. The first thing you notice when you arrive at reSTART’s five-acre estate in Fall City is the absence of all that cacophonous buzzing, dinging and ringing that usually crowds the aural space of daily life. Instead, the wind rustles through cedars and doves coo in the distance.
It feels like an idyllic woodland retreat, but inside the center’s main house are reminders of the reason people come here. A sign at the entrance asks visitors to turn off their phones. A wall in the dining room is covered in post-it notes responding to the prompt, “How does digital media use get in the way of living your life to the fullest?” On them clients admitted to wasting their day on Pinterest, becoming a slave to e-mail and giving in to the sense of false accomplishment they felt from playing an online game. One scrawled: “More likely to sit and watch something then go out and do something.” In the living room, a digital picture frame flashes motivational phrases, like, “Social media: update less. connect more.”
View attachment 45522 Five people lived at reSTART when I visited in July: four guys and Charlie, all paying at least $25,000 for their 45-day treatments. The oldest was Adam, a 26-year-old from Louisiana who at one point was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder before his parents decided he might instead be addicted to online gaming. The youngest was an 18-year-old who, despite being near the end of his 45 day-minimum stay, still seemed in denial that he was an addict at all.
People wind up at reSTART, generally, because they’re spending so much time online that their offline lives have begun to unravel. When the center first opened in 2009, it received a call from a parent whose son had played an online game for so long that he lost blood circulation in his leg and had to have it amputated. Most patients are college drop-outs or have trouble holding down a job. Many were so wrapped up in their online lives that they never learned to do very basic things, like drive, balance a budget or scramble eggs.
Hilarie Cash, reSTART’s executive director and co-founder, moved to Seattle in the early 90s to set up a therapy practice. She became interested in internet addiction after taking on a client whose marriage and job seemed to be falling apart because of the time he spent gaming online. He was the first of many.
“I kept seeing the same variable showing up again and again and that was the internet,” said Cash, who speaks with perfect enunciation and exudes a kind of professorial zen. The Seattle area is a tech hub, home to Microsoft, Amazon and Nintendo America, so many of her clients were early adopters.
Cash wasn’t an addiction specialist, but she thought her clients exhibited classic signs of behavioral addiction. When someone becomes addicted to drugs their body becomes chemically dependent, seeking out more and more of a substance to keep their brain’s reward centers revved up. Behavioral addictions, like gambling, share many of the same characteristics, like cravings and loss of control over how frequently you indulge in an activity no matter the consequences. And research has shown that behavioral addictions similarly stimulate the brain’s reward pathways. The brain gets hooked on the little bursts of dopamine transmitted each time it experiences reward. Seeking that hit of dopamine – through eating, gambling, video games, texting – becomes a compulsion.
reSTART’s treatment begins with a detox; patients have to give up cellphones, computers or anything else connected to the web. They make calls to the outside world from an old-timey pay phone in the living room.The bookshelves are lined with rows of paperbacks. There are clocks everywhere, since no one carries a phone in their pocket.
Then, they’re forced to deal with the underlying issues that might have led to their addiction, figuring out what triggers them and how to stop it. That means lots of therapy, mindfulness classes and ample self-reflection.
Most people at reSTART say their addiction began with some kind of personal trauma. Everyone I spoke with told me they turned to the internet mainly because they were feeling lonely, bored and wanted to escape whatever was going on around them. Reid, 20, told me he started gaming and seeking out relationships online as a teen after his father left his family. His mother moved them from Israel to California where he became isolated because his English wasn’t great.
At one group therapy session I sat in on, Adam, who had only been there a week, said his addiction to gaming spiraled out of control when his relationship with his high school sweetheart soured during his freshman year of college. That started a years-long cycle of depression and addiction. His reSTART housemates listened quietly in knowing silence, then peppered him with piercing questions. How did the girlfriend treat him? Is anyone else in his family an addict? What kind of relationship did he have with his parents? Adam said that his parents’ house had huge flat-screen TVs in nearly every room and his dad seemed pretty into tech. Everyone nodded.
Much of the treatment is similar to that for drug addicts; reSTART’s basic recovery philosophy is an adaption of Alcohol Anonymous’s 12-steps program. What makes internet addicts unique, Cash said, is that so many of them missed out on learning to be basic, functioning adults because they spent so much time glued to a screen. Thus, chores and socializing with their housemates are a huge part of the program. Everyone has a job, from feeding the chickens to cooking the meals. Charlie said one of the things she liked most was cleaning the bathroom. Adam began phoning home to Louisiana for his mother’s recipes, earning clout with his housemates for being the only one who could really cook.
Residents are encouraged to get active and go outdoors, a new experience for many. Every morning and afternoon there are CrossFit-inspired exercise sessions. On the weekends, residents go on trips to hike, kayak and camp.
In describing her patients’ problems, Cash cites “iDisorder,” an idea psychologist Larry Rosen popularized in his 2012 book that screen time begets personality disorders such as dependence, narcissism, being anti-social or avoiding life.
“I can see it getting worse when you’ve got generations coming up with even more screen time,” she said.
The truth is, no one knows how to best treat internet addiction because we still don’t completely understand it.
When reSTART first opened in 2009, China had already declared internet addiction a national epidemic and had been running treatment centers for five years — but researchers in the U.S. were not convinced that internet addiction was real. A person couldn’t be addicted to the Internet — a medium — some argued. That would be akin to saying an alcoholic was addicted to the glass, not the wine.
“Therapists don’t know how to think about it,” said Cash. “They think the gaming or internet use is symptomatic of the depression, but often it’s the other way around.”
But recently, many researchers have come around. In 2008, The American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial encouraging internet addiction be included in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. “Internet addiction is resistant to treatment, entails significant risks, and has high relapse rates,” the author, psychiatrist Jerald Block, wrote. In 2013, the latest update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included Internet Gaming Disorder as a “condition for further study.”
The classification spurred a flurry of research on tech-based addictions. A study published last December in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking estimated that internet addiction occurs in 6 percent of the global population. Another study published that month found that not only did 10 percent of participants exhibit addictive behaviors in the way they used social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, it seemed to be associated with other impulse control disorders, like substance abuse. A literature review presented at the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 annual meeting found that people with internet addiction tended to exhibit certain brain abnormalities, like reduced levels of dopamine transporters, something commonly seen in the brain’s of drug addicts.
This fall, a white paper on internet addiction is due out and California will host a first-of-its-kind conference about the impact of screen-time and digital media on development. Most of the researchers I spoke with were confident that some form of internet addiction will be listed in the next edition of the DSM.
If you’ve reached this far in the story, you might be wondering if you fit the bill. Maybe you catch yourself compulsively scrolling through Instagram, itching for that hit of dopamine you get when someone “likes” a photo you post. Maybe your phone feels like an appendage, both a phantom limb you can’t function without and a constant, anxiety-inducing distraction.
By Kristen V. Brown - Fusion/Aug. 11, 2015
Art: 1-picturefordesktop; 2-weebitwordy
The above news article on internet and addiction seems like a DF natural to me, as both the internet and addiction are subjects spoken about here daily; I am therefore offering up this non-drug news story in hopes that many of you will find the read an interesting and DF-news relevant addition to our regular fare.
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