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Treatment Program for Internet, Video Game Addiction in Young People


Do you think your child is spending too much time online or playing video games? Does your child get angry when he or she is told to get off the internet? Many experts believe internet and video game addiction is a growing problem, especially among young people. The first Young Person Technology Addiction Service hopes to address this addictive behavior.

Capio Nightingale Hospital in the United Kingdom has launched the first-ever Young Person Technology Addiction service under the auspices of Dr. Richard Graham, the lead consultant for the program at Capio. Graham specializes in internet, games, and other technology addictions and sees these challenges as products of today’s culture. He notes that “Mental health services need to adapt quickly to the changing worlds that young people inhabit, and understand just how seriously their lives can be impaired by unregulated time online, on-screen or in-game.”

The Young Person Technology Addiction programs are individually designed to the needs of each patient and may include individual therapy, day care, group therapy, and intensive in-patient care. The underlying principles of the programs are to increase a young person’s time away from the screen and help him or her engage in off-screen social activities. Participants are also helped with strategies to deal with online problems, such as cyber-bullying.

The program has three main elements. Interpersonal Therapy focuses on social skills and interpersonal sensitivity and how it relates to difficulties patients have with face-to-face interactions.

In Tech Hygiene, the focus is on how to “Switch Off and Disconnect” and helps patients explore with others the meaning of their relationship with video games, their phone, social networks like Facebook, and other technology. Patients engage in therapies such as Sleep and Energy, Relaxation, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and learn how to manage the arousal level that follows prolonged gaming.

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The Life Skills and Health segment highlights body image and how a young person can feel good within his or her own body. For young people who have engaged in technology addiction for a long time, poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity are often issues that need to be addressed as well.

Previous studies have pointed out what many experts believe is an addiction to video games and online use. A recent study entitled “Pathological Video Game Use among Youth 8 to 18: A National Study” showed that nearly 10 percent of young people may be suffering from social, family, and psychological damage because of video game addiction.

According to researcher Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University, this was “the first study to tell us the national prevalence of pathological play among youth gamers.” It showed that youth addicted to video games had attention deficits in school, lower grades, more health problems, and tended to steal.

In another study, involving more than 9,400 adolescents and conducted by researchers from Kaohsiung Medical University, the results showed that 25 percent of male students and 13 percent of females were addicted to internet use. The researchers also found that 37 percent of students addicted to the internet reported engaging in aggressive behavior within the last year, compared with 13 percent of nonaddicted female students and 32 percent of nonaddicted male students.

Graham notes in a recent Telegraph article that he has been told by an increasing number of parents about how their children have become enraged when they are told they must turn off their computer. Some parents have even had to call the police. He explains that technology addicts, who are similar to gambling addicts, are overly stimulated and “always on the alert” and can experience agitation.

Currently there are other clinics that offer treatment for internet addiction but none have dedicated programs for young users as does Capio Nightingale Hospital. The Young Person Technology Addiction program offers services for children as young as 12, but adolescents ages 15 to 17 are expected to make up the main treatment group. Capio Nightingale Hospital offers a 10-question Technology Addiction Test on its website.

Gentile D. Psychological Science 2009 May; 20(5): 594-602
Ko CH et al. Journal of Adolescent Health 2009 Jun; 44(6): 598-605
Telegraph UK, Mar. 18, 2010