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First US Internet addiction treatment centre to open next week

The first to be treated will begin their 10-day long voluntary stint on Monday next, September 9, when they will consign themselves for the duration to the Behavioral Health Services Unit at Bradford Regional Medical Center in central Pennsylvania.

Since the early 1990s there has been long and sometimes agonised debate about whether or not Internet addiction actually exists, whether it can be medically diagnosed and, if it is shown to be a real condition, whether or not it can be treated and cured.

In 1995, psychologist Dr. Kimberly Young founded the Center for Internet Addiction and in 1996 she presented a paper to the American Psychological Association outlining clinical evidence that Internet addiction is a real illness and, since then, other research has been undertaken all over the world and there is now general agreement that Internet addiction exists, is spreading and is ruining some people's lives.

Dr Young and her colleagues differentiate between mere psychological dependence on comms technoology and the obsessions suffered by true Internet addicts. The lives of such addicts are utterly dominated by an uncontrollable compulsion to be continually on the Internet and just like heroin addicts, they mental and physical withdrawal symptoms when deprived of access to what they most crave.

Those selected for treatment in Bradford, Pennsylvania are such addicts and have been identified as being suitable for the intensive treatment, devised by cognitive specialists with wide experience of more usual additions such as drug, alcohol and gambling problems. Patients will be chosen partly because they have previously tried to buck their addiction and failed. They also have to be rich. The treatment costs US$14,000 and is not covered under any medical insurance policies because the insurance companies refuse to acknowledge Internet addiction as a clinical condition.

On arrival at the Bradford facility, patients unergo a short, sharp dose of cold turkey as they are deprived of all access to comms devices and services for the first three days of their stay. After this so-called "digital detox" they undergo psychological testing and evaluation before the treatment process itself begins.

Evidence shows that those diagnosed with Internet addiction, unsurprisingly, are particularly vulnerable after their enforced 72-hour period of abstinence and are often depressed, withdrawn, anxious, moody, irritable and even, in some cases, violent as a result. Sounds to me like some of people we probably all know at work who behave like that when they are connected to the web, never mind when they are not.

Earlier this year the American Psychiatric Association published evidence showing that whilst Internet addiction can afflict anyone, anywhere, young men from Asian countries are particularly prone to becoming addicted. The reasons for this are not yet clear but it seems to be a mix of sociology and chemistry.

Dr Young herself points out that "Internet addiction is a problem in this country [the US] that can be more pervasive than alcoholism. After all, "it is free, legal and fat free." Unlike drugs, booze, gambling, train spotting & shopping.

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