Daniel Vahab is a social media researcher/strategist and freelance journalist. His work has appeared in Mashable, Yahoo! News, The Baltimore Sun, The Huffington Post, the Sun-Sentinel, the New York Press, and the Jewish Daily Forward, among others.
“Do you neglect household chores at home or school to spend more time online or video gaming? Do you block disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the Internet or video gaming? Do you prefer excitement of the Internet or video gaming to intimacy with your friends or partner?”
These are just some of the questions from a survey on Internet and technology usage and addiction from reSTART, which calls itself the “nation’s first retreat center program specializing in problematic Internet, video game, and technology use.” Founded three years ago in Fall City, Washington, there have been forty-five people who have gone through the program.
So who, exactly, is an Internet addict? Just because you spend a lot of hours on the Internet does not mean you are an addict, said Hunter R. Slaton, Rehab Review Editor for The Fix, a popular website on addiction and recovery. Like any alcoholic addict, he said, you can have a drink every day and not be addicted whereas you can go on a binge once a month and be an addict. It’s all about the individual having control over their Internet usage. When you lose that control and feel powerless and very often your work, family, and social life is affected, you become addicted.
And what types of people are Internet addicts? Dr. Cash, educational director of reSTART, said that they are mainly young people who grew up with the Internet and that many are genetically predisposed to addiction because, it’s argued, the brain doesn’t produce enough dopamine. The addiction, she said, will also often derive from psychological pain, such as depression or a feeling of loneliness. One uses the addiction as a form of escape from that pain.
“The Internet is a wonderful, cheap way to run away from psychological pain,” she added.
Not by and large taken as a legitimate addiction, Internet addiction will invariably become more of a reality in our society as more people gain access to the Internet, its popularity increases with the rise in social media and its ability to do more daily tasks such as food and clothes shopping and banking online, and more people get access to Ipads, iPhones, and the like.
Dr. Cash tells of a man who came seeking help from the addiction at age twenty-eight. At the time, he’d been immersed in the online video game World of Warcraft since the age of nine. In college, he didn’t socialize at all aside from friends he’d made online and didn’t have any real relationships. Then after college, he lived in his mom’s basement and continued that trend. A therapist he was seeing recommended he come to reSTART.
“They are so much withdrawn from the world they are uncomfortable in the world,” says Cash of Internet addicts.
After his time in the program, he managed to get a job and a long-term relationship, but still struggled to make friends. And while he didn’t have a computer in his apartment, he had a relapse with his newfound Smartphone, which gave him access to the Internet at all times. He had hoped to use it for only a set period of time but became powerless to how long he was on it. However, he has since gotten the addiction back under control.
A typical week at the center includes the residences getting up at 7am, making their own breakfast, have a morning meeting to go into goals and let off steam. Three to four days a week they do cross-fit training and have therapy, both group and individual, and engage in work projects, reading and writing assignments. They also do yoga, mindfulness training, and table-top games. Twice a month, they do a backpacking trip into the wilderness and will also go hiking and canoeing. (And of course, residents aren’t allowed any sort of addiction device with access to the Internet.)
But as insurance doesn’t cover the program, unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve gotten a scholarship, prepare to fork over $20,000 for 45 days of treatment.
For those without the money, Dr. Cash said they can get a loan or try to find a very low-cost therapist. Other suggestions include setting time limits online, installing accountability software, or coming up with some sort of 12-step program, said Slaton.
The irony: The treatments that exist are primarily online-based.
Slaton said he has received half a dozen such calls to The Fix’s helpline, which connect people to rehabs nationwide. But he noted that pales in comparison to calls for other addictions.
He recalled one young girl he interviewed whose addiction started in high school and carried over after college and into her office job in New York City. Ever since high school, she had become addicted to instant messaging, online gaming, and web browsing at one time or another. A therapist she spoke with suggested she stay online for only an hour a day and that she’d have to stay at work after hours for any time she went over that hour. Not able to commit, she’d end up at the end of each workday using the Internet, and as a result missing scheduled appointments, such as a date.
And it wasn’t that she was in denial that the problem existed, he said; she was well aware of the consequences of her actions. Rather, she just felt compelled to stay online.
The complex—and complicated—thing about Internet addiction is that it can serve as two addictions: Internet addiction by itself and addiction to porn, gambling, shopping, and video games for which the Internet serves as a convenient portal.
It is further complicated in that, like food addiction in which you must eat to live, said Slaton, many have jobs that require them to be online and use the Internet for social interactions. Slaton compared an Internet addict working in an office setting to that of an alcoholic working in a bar.
Like any addiction, “unless they hit some sort of bottom where their denial system is cracked, they’re not going to be motivated to change,” said Dr. Cash.
By Daniel Vahab