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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Internet at 40

Breaking free from the Web: New rehab caters to Internet addicts

You've noticed them—people who truly cannot detach psychologically and behaviorally from the worlds of online gaming or social networking. Or perhaps you are one of these people. In any case, these compulsive types now have a way out; the first Internet addiction detox center in the U.S. has opened in Fall City, Wash., just a few miles from Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond.

For $14,500—WiFi not included—an addict can spend 45 Internet-abstinent days at the Heavensfield Retreat Center and, hopefully, emerge into the real world free of an obsession with Facebook, online gambling or even text messaging. (A stay at Heavensfield is not covered by insurance, but some scholarships are available.)

The retreat's founders think that Internet addiction is a serious problem, affecting between 6 and 10 percent of the online population. But how do you know if you are an addict? A list of 12 "signs and symptoms" appears on the new reStart Internet Addiction Recovery Program's Web page—from a "heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and Internet activities" to "being dishonest with others" and "physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, [and] carpal tunnel syndrome." According to the site, three or four "yes" responses suggests possible abuse; five or more point to addiction.

Ben Alexander, 19, of Iowa City was the program's first patient. "My game of choice was 'World of Warcraft,'" he told Seattle's KING 5 News this week. "I would play until I fell asleep at the keyboard." The program offers individualized attention for addicts. In Alexander's case, that means more attention to his former hobbies: cross-country running and biology. Although he doesn't see himself avoiding the Internet altogether on his release, Alexander expects to regain more "balance" in his life.

And a life devoid of Internet use is not the camp's intent. "We are not anti-technology," Hilarie Cash, executive director of the center, told AFP. "It is about helping people addicted to technology get through the withdrawal and help their brains get wired back to normal and connected to the world in a positive way."

Meanwhile, in China, 400 private rehabilitation clinics and camps tend to some of the estimated 10 million teenage Web addicts, according to CNN. That's about 10 percent of the country's 100 million Internet users.

"Both China and South Korea have designated Internet addiction as their number one public health danger," notes reStart in a statement. "The United States, by contrast, has been slower to recognize and respond to the problem but now is beginning to take some active steps. This program is part of that process."


Picture by Killroy via iStockphoto

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