In the suburbs of Seattle, there is a little woodland retreat called reSTART. It's an internet addiction rehab clinic. Tech junkies go there to be cured. It's not a cheap cure: it costs $25,000 for a 40-day treatment. Until now, it's only treated adults, but this month, it announced plans to accept teen tech addicts as well.
The center will be accepting clients as young as 14, making it the first internet addiction rehab program in the U.S. for teens.
While "internet addiction" isn't actually a recognized medical diagnosis, many researchers believe it soon will be. In 2008, The American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial encouraging internet addiction be included in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the so-called bible of mental health conditions. In 2013, the latest update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders included Internet Gaming Disorder as a “condition for further study.”
Psychologist Hilarie Cash started reSTART in 2009 after a number of her patients complained they were spending too much time on the internet, and it was ruining their lives. Since then, Cash says, the prevalence of internet addiction has grown. Yet there is only one other major inpatient internet addiction program in the U.S., at the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania.
"It is now more important than ever to begin treating people when they are young," said Cash. Getting them young can help to address a problem before it ruins their jobs or grades, making it even harder to get their lives back on track.
Cash said that the center has long had requests to take teens, but hasn't had the resources to do so since long-term addiction treatment for teens also means providing them with schooling. At present, the majority of reSTART clients are male gamers between the ages of 18 and 28.
Much of the treatment at reSTART is similar to that for drug addicts; reSTART’s basic recovery philosophy is an adaption of Alcohol Anonymous’s 12-step program. What makes internet addicts unique, Cash has told me in the past, is that older addicts missed out on learning to be basic, functioning adults because they spent so much time glued to a screen.
"I think people are realizing now that this is a real problem disrupting their lives," she said. "This problem is only going to spread."