First US Web Addiction Center Opens
> 9/8/2009 12:09:09 PM

The concept of internet addiction as a diagnosable disorder continues to gain traction as the world wide web becomes an ever-more integrated part of our daily lives. In the wake of government-sponsored programs to combat internet dependency among Chinese teens, the first residential center for the treatment of internet addiction has opened in the US.

An increasing number of young Americans live in virtual world where they can maintain sedentary lifestyles while conducting nearly all of their daily business in front of a computer screen. Sites offering gambling pools, pornography, and interactive video games have proven particularly problematic. It seems that some young people rely on the web to such a degree that their compulsive internet use facilitates physical and behavioral health problems. And a small number of parents have responded in dramatic fashion. Some of the most extreme stories from communist China concern adolescents placed in military-run lockdown facilities by parents concerned about their all-consuming obsession with cyberspace. Government studies in that country recently declared nearly 15% of teens to be in danger of developing serious internet addictions.

Reactions have so far been far milder in the US, but the concept of web dependency treatments shows signs of growing acceptance. ReSTART, the Washington state-based residential center that opened in July 2009, offers participants a 45-day version of the traditional 12-step rehab plan.The program's founders are therapists who treated subjects with severe internet dependency issues for years and recently decided that the scale of the problem demanded a residential facility in order to test approaches like those used in established drug rehab programs. Subjects at ReSTART attend meetings, interact in a communal living atmosphere, and treat their internet habits much like chemical dependencies. The founders of ReSTART have also created a personal survey and a scale with which subjects can gauge the degree of their dependence on the internet.

The ReSTART campus, which is ironically located a short drive from Microsoft headquarters, has very few residents for the time being. Its program remains extremely expensive and its results, as such, have not been properly tested. But as Americans spend more of their lives online, it will almost certainly not stay empty for long.

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