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The Digital Drug: Internet addiction leads to US treatment programs



CINCINNATI (Reuters) – When Danny Reagan turned 13, he began to show signs of what doctors usually associate with drug addiction. He became excited, mysterious and withdrew from friends. He had given up baseball and scouts and stopped doing homework and taking a shower.

Danny Reagan, a former patient of the "Reboot" program at the Lindner Center of Hope, the first of his kind to admit only children suffering from coercion or obsession with the use of technology, sits in a common room in the center of Mason , Ohio, USA, January 23, 2019. REUTERS / Maddie McGarvey

But he did not consume any drugs. He was passionate about YouTube and video games, to the point where he could not do anything else. As the doctors would confirm, he was addicted to his electronics.

"After I got my console, I somehow fell in love with it," Danny said, now 16 and a junior at a Cincinnati High School. "I liked to shut everything out and just relax."

Danny differed from typical American teenagers with power sockets. Psychiatrists say that Internet dependency, which is characterized by the loss of control over Internet use and disregard for its consequences, affects up to eight percent of Americans and occurs more frequently around the world.

"We are all addicted. I think that's obvious in our behavior, "said psychiatrist Kimberly Young, who has headed the research area since the Center for Internet Addiction was founded in 1995." It's becoming a public health issue as health moves through the behavior is influenced.

Psychiatrists like Young, who have studied compulsive behavior on the Internet for decades, now see more cases triggering a wave of new treatment programs in the United States. Psychiatric centers in Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and other states are expanding their range of services to inpatient treatment on the Internet.

Some skeptics see Internet addiction as a bad condition made by teenagers refusing to discard their smartphones, and the Reagans say they have trouble explaining it to the extended family.

Anthony Bean, a psychologist and author of a Guide to Video-therapy clinics, said that over-playing and using the Internet may point to other mental illnesses, but should not be labeled as discrete disorders.

"It's like some kind of pathologizing behavior without really understanding what's going on," he said.

"REBOOT"

First, Dannyy's parents introduced him to doctors and had him sign contracts signing up to restrict his internet use. Nothing worked until they discovered a groundbreaking home therapy center in Mason, Ohio, about 35 km south of Cincinnati.

The Lindner Center for Hope's "reboot" program offers inpatient treatment for 11- to 17-year-olds who like Danny have addictions such as online gaming, gambling, social media, pornography and sexting, often to avoid the symptoms of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Danny was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and 6 anxiety disorders by the age of 5, and the doctors said he had developed an Internet addiction to deal with these disorders.

"Reboot" patients spend 28 days in a suburban facility with 16 bedrooms, classrooms, a gym and a dining room. They undergo diagnostic tests, psychotherapy and learn to moderate their internet usage.

Chris Tuell, clinical director of addiction services, started the program in December after seeing several cases, including Danny's, in which young people used the Internet for "self-medication" instead of drugs and alcohol.

Although the Internet is not officially recognized as an addictive substance, it abducts the brain's reward system by triggering the release of delectable chemicals and is accessible from an early age, Tuell said.

"The brain really does not care what it is, whether I pour it down my throat or put it in my nose or see it with my eyes or do it with my hands," Tuell said. "Many of the same neurochemicals occur in the brain."

Recovery from internet dependency, however, is different from other dependencies because it's not about "sobering up," Tuell said. In schools, at home and at work, the Internet has become indispensable and indispensable.

"It's always there," Danny said, pulling out his smartphone. "I feel it in my pocket. But I better ignore it. "

Is it a real disorder?

Medical experts have started taking Internet addiction more seriously.

Neither the World Health Organization (WHO) nor the American Psychiatric Association recognize Internet addiction as a disorder. However, over the past year, WHO has recognized the more specific gaming disorder after years of research in China, South Korea and Taiwan, where doctors have referred to it as a public health crisis.

Some online games and console manufacturers have discouraged gamers from playing too much. YouTube has developed a time-tracking tool to encourage viewers to take breaks as part of their parent company's "Digital Wellbeing" initiative.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said that internet addiction is the subject of "intensive research" and consideration of future classification. The American Psychiatric Association has described the game disorder as a condition for further study.

"Whether it's classified or not, people are facing up to these issues," Tuell said.

Slideshow (11 pictures)

Tuell recalled a person whose addiction was so severe that the patient would bring himself to a bowel movement instead of leaving his electronics to the bathroom.

Research on Internet addiction could soon lead to empirical findings to meet medical classification standards, Tuell said, as psychologists have found evidence of brain adaptation in adolescents forcibly playing games and using the Internet.

"It's not a choice, it's an actual disorder and disease," Danny said. "People who joke about it are not serious enough to be great civil servants, which hurts me personally."

Report by Gabriella Borter; Edited by: Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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