Treating Internet Addiction is New?I’ve been loathe to give any additional attention to the tiny treatment center in Washington state that says it’s treating “Internet addiction” in a “first of its kind in the US” treatment program, seeing as it’s already had over 350 media mentions in the past few days, including the one below in none other than the New York Times. Apparently when you start a media snowball rolling downhill, it’s hard to stop for a moment and do any actual reporting on the topic. It is much easier to eat up the PR and repackage it with no critical eye on the claims made.

One of the problems with the mainstream media’s reporting on the topic is that it’s acting as though this is the first treatment center to treat this mythical condition (I say “mythical” since the research is definitely mixed on its existence, and it’s not recognized by any diagnostic system nor insurance company as a legitimate mental disorder). Indeed, my good colleague whom I admire and respect, Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack (on the Harvard Medical School faculty, no less), has been treating this condition for 15 years at the famed McLean Hospital.

Oh, but wait, you say. Dr. Orzack’s program is outpatient only. This surely must be the first inpatient treatment program for people with “Internet addiction,” no? I mean, all the media is reporting the exact same claims made in the press release by the company. Apparently, no one in the media spent 2 minutes on Google to verify the claims.

For instance, in this article entitled Internet addiction may be one click away on July 29, 2008, the reporter notes:

Coleen Moore, coordinator of resource development at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, said she has clients from college age to early adulthood who spend 14 to 18 hours a day online. [...]

At the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, some patients need 30 to 90 days in-patient treatment, followed by a continuing care program. But Internet addiction recovery, as any other addiction, requires lifelong treatment, experts said.

So in two minutes of Googling, I find that one of the primary components that made this story ostensibly “news” was that this was the first such inpatient program to treat “Internet addiction.” Wrong.

And one has to wonder — for 15 years, professionals have been treating this condition in outpatient settings. One hopes they’ve been treating it in outpatient settings successfully, but again, the research isn’t strong here. Why the need for more inpatient settings for something that the professional community doesn’t even recognize as a legitimate disorder?

Is the Internet like crack or heroin, where you need to seclude someone in a residential inpatient treatment center at $14,000 for 45 days while you teach them the cognitive-behavioral strategies they need to learn to better mediate their Internet use? I don’t have an answer for this question, and neither does the research, which is moot on inpatient treatment for “Internet addiction.” Without research supporting such a treatment strategy, you might as well as start selling herbal supplements to help with this concern.

Isn’t it interesting that when it came time to re-purpose an old treatment center, they settled upon an “in vogue” diagnosis?

Cosette Dawna Rae, a psychotherapist, has owned the bucolic retreat center since 1994, and was searching for a new use for it when she teamed up with Ms. Cash.

So despite the lack of any clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of inpatient treatment for a mythical condition, that doesn’t stop the press from fawning all over this slick new business. I rely on mainstream reporting to at least pretend to give equal time to the other side on controversial issues like this. And if nothing else, check out the claims made in a press release to see if they are actually true before simply reporting the claim itself. Anybody can report claims; journalism is supposed to take one additional step and see if the claim has any merit.

“Internet addiction” makes an appearance in the media about twice a year, usually for some reason like this. What doesn’t make news headlines is the actual research that calls into question this proposed diagnosis and the serious methodological flaws that exist in virtually all the research to date on this concern.

Read the full article: Center Tries to Treat Web Addicts

I was also interviewed for a segment on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on this topic, which aired yesterday evening.

 


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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Sep 2009
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2009). Treating Internet Addiction is New?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/09/08/treating-internet-addiction-is-new/

 

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