Websites claiming to treat Internet use and videogame addiction
Can you really trust the information found online?
by Cosette Rae, CEO
When reSTART opened its doors offering intensive treatment for clients struggling with Internet and video game addiction in 2009, we were the first in the United States to do so. Now, a simple Internet search turns up hundreds of websites, programs, advice lines, and referral networks all claiming to treat video game and Internet addiction, and every other behavioral problem currently being thrown around in the literature. Suddenly hundreds of programs have became experts at treating the problem overnight. While there are a few reputable programs and counselors who genuinely understand and use evidence based strategies to treat process addictions, countless others use keywords on websites to lure troubled individuals and family members to their help lines, and into programs that know little about how to treat Internet or videogame addiction. As troubling as this sounds, it's likely here to stay, and will likely grow more troublesome over time.
First things first: Specialists matter
Aside from reSTART, there are a few key people and programs who have been working in the field for the past decade. For example, Kimberly Young started a hospital based Internet addiction treatment program at Bradford Regional Medical Center where patients with intense stabilization needs are offered care. This is a different approach than offered here at reSTART. Our retreat center program is designed and operated by specialists in the field of process addictions and mental health to provide a progressive step-down model of care beginning with a thorough digital assessment, 8-12 week digital de-tech, family education, life skills development and transition program, and ongoing sustainability, and maintenance. In addition to our program there are a few wilderness programs that have designed specialized tracks specifically for problematic users. However, that said, many programs claiming to treat digital media problems actually lump users in with substance abusing clients, and treat the problem like any other addiction. This "one-size-fits-all" approach may work in a few cases, but in reality, addiction to substances is a very different phenomenon than a behavioral addiction involving the Internet, videogames, or virtual reality. The primary goal for a substance abusing client is complete and permanent abstinence from the drug, or activity of choice. However, this is simply not possible in the digital age for problematic video gamers or compulsive Internet users. Therefore, it's critical that program team members understand why this approach may cause more harm than good, and knows how to respond accordingly. Sadly, many programs don't have specialized tracks designed for non-substance using clients.
Second things next: Labels don't help
Using pejorative terms like addict, video game addiction, Internet gaming disorder, and the countless other terms being used to describe the phenomenon of excessive, frequent and varied digital media consumption does not encourage users in seeking help. In fact, it increases the likelihood of a user staying in denial. Hence, this is why our team discusses the concepts of sustainable use, at appropriate developmental stages, and in an environment of accountability as part of our program. Users resonate with developing their own plans, learning about the addictive nature of digital media, and come to terms with the ways digital media consumption is interfering with their quality of life, and the need for change.
Third things third: If it walks like a duck, it may not actually be a duck
We've heard it all when it comes to how programs work with digital media users. For example, one program shared with a member of our team: "kids will be kids-they're just going to use." Not so, we believe. Take two people who play video games. One user is able to maintain his/her grades, attends their classes, completes their homework, connects with family members, and engages often in beloved hobbies. The other, while engaging heavily in digital media use and/or video gaming, losses complete track of time, is absorbed in their virtual lives at the exclusion of all other outside influences, and continues using despite adverse consequences. Thus, thinking it's just an issue that kids will grow out of over time, while perhaps true in some cases, may actually lead to an increase in problematic use over time for clients served. Some programs claim that a 6-8 week high adventure without digital media will "fix" the problem. While a lengthy period of abstinence is a start towards addressing digital media issues, it is only a start. This thinking is similar in nature to thinking a person who is deprived of alcohol, is cured of their addictive behavior (otherwise known as the "dry drunk.") In the absence of treatment, once access to their "drug (or activity) of choice" is within reach, the higher likelihood they'll return to previous levels of engagement. Thus, when it comes to treatment, understanding the underlying issues, and having the resources to invite the right kind of change, is much more important than simply labeling something by it's appearance.
Last things last: If you're not sure, just ask
When you, or someone you love is in crisis and you don't know where to turn, we hope you'll reach out and ask a reputable source who understands and specializes in the treatment or problematic Internet or video game use. As a general reminder, and one that we share with our clients. just because you read it online, doesn't mean it's true.
For more information on treatment practices, review our scholarly article found here: Cash, H., Rae, C. D., Steel, A. H., & Winkler, A. (2012). Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8(4), 292–298. doi:10.2174/157340012803520513