A controversial program — possibly the first of its kind in the U.S. — is starting next week at Bradford Regional Medical Center.
With her two decades of experience in researching and treating Internet addiction, Dr. Kimberly Young is going to head up an Internet detoxification and stabilization program in the behavioral health division at BRMC. It begins Monday.
It’s a 10-day, voluntary inpatient program to treat a disorder that not all experts believe actually exists.
“The thing about what we’re doing and why it’s garnered so much attention, it’s controversial and historic,” Young explained on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re going to go down in the history books and be able to help people who have nowhere else to go.”
And what would Young say to detractors and disbelievers?
“I’ve studied this for two decades,” she said. “It is real.”
People are seeking out treatment for this addiction, and are willing to pay for it out-of-pocket — with a $14,000 price tag — as insurance won’t cover the costs.
This program came about at BRMC after some conversations between Young and Dr. Roger Laroche, medical director of behavioral health services at the hospital.
“We talked about the reality of how many people have this and the lack of treatment for it,” she explained. “This fills a need.”
What does Internet addiction mean? Someone who spends too much time on Facebook? Not really, Young explained.
“It’s all relative,” she said. “It’s like asking at what point does a social drinker become an alcoholic.”
According to Young, Internet addiction is “a compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict’s life. Internet addicts make the Internet a priority more important than family, friends and work. The Internet becomes the organizing principle of addicts’ lives.”
Young explained, “I’ve been studying this for two decades. Back in 1994 and ‘95, chat rooms and pornography were big. In the late ‘90s, day trading was really popular. In the early 2000s, it was online shopping and eBay. In the mid-2000s, it was social media. I saw phases over the years, but gaming was consistent throughout.”
She said people seeking help from the Internet addiction program “have to have a psychiatric evaluation and a dual diagnosis, like depression or Asperger’s Syndrome. People without social skills in the real world excel at gaming.
“You see people with multiple problems,” she said. Young males who are socially awkward and don’t make friends easily may have a completely different Internet identity — “it’s like a dual personality they create online.”
Young said in her private practice, she’s received many calls from parents of an adult son addicted to the online multi-player role playing games, like World of Warcraft. “He might live in the basement, have no life, have been kicked out of college for gaming too much, has no goals,” she said. The parents will call and say “we don’t know what to do with him.”
Traditional psychiatric treatment doesn’t address the Internet addiction, and the parents are looking for something more. “What do I do next?” the parents will ask. “I get calls like that a lot,” Young said.
“This program is unlike anything,” she said. “I have been doing this for 20 years. It’s based on empirical research. I’ve done my own studies on this and we’ve incorporated this into our treatment.
“It’s an evidence-based treatment,” the doctor said. “I commend the vision of BRMC to see this is a problem and to work with me and help me develop this program.”
She anticipates drawing patients from around the nation, and possibly around the world as well.
“I just got back from Australia,” Young said. “They see this as a major problem in the country.”
The doctor explained the inpatient program is not a one-stop-shop for patients. Follow-up care is offered as well. However, Young said with a laugh, there is a caveat — some of that care is handled using Skype, over the Internet.