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Is Internet Addiction as Damaging as Drugs, Alcohol and Gambling?

Internet addiction is said to be more pervasive than alcoholism in the United States, and while treatment is available, how do you know when you need it?

Dr. Kimberly Young is founder of the Center for Internet Addiction at Bradford Regional Medical Center in central Pennsylvania, the first inpatient treatment program for Internet addiction in the nation.

Dr. Young says she first encountered internet addiction in 1994 when she learned that a friend’s husband was spending more than 50 hours a week in AOL chat rooms, at a time when internet usage was billed by the hour.

“It made me wonder, ‘could people get addicted to the internet in the same way we talk about drugs, alcohol, food, and gambling?’,” says Young.

From there she met people who have experienced job-loss, weight-loss and ruined relationships, because they couldn’t control their use of the internet.

Dr. Young recently completed a survey of approximately 1,000 people with this problems, and she found common threads among those with the addiction.

“We’re finding that people who have poor coping skills, more problems with social anxiety, more problems in general with psychiatric conditions, like depression or alcoholism, are having more of a problem with internet addiction.” These vulnerabilities are usually evident in excessive online gaming, gambling, and pornography.

At the Center for Internet Addiction, Dr. Young developed a 72 hour detoxification program where patients are kept in a locked ward. From there, Dr. Young says the patient is eased back into functional use of the internet.

“We’re not looking at an abstinence model, we’re looking at kind of a food addiction model. So treatment really is about learning to control and moderate your internet use.” Through software monitoring and firewalls, Dr. Young says her patients learn how to make healthy choices online.