Internet addiction: A real problem in America? - FOX 13 News

Internet addiction: A real problem in America?

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Jack Cole says he spends most of his day online.

"I just love the Internet, and I love everything that's available at your fingertips," the Bradenton resident said.

Throughout the day, he stays glued to his laptop and smartphone – the barrage of tweets and texts and minute-by-minute checking of what's happening on social media and in the news.

That's life in the digital age for Jack – and a majority of folks these days.

"We're going to go with about 8 hours a day," Cole said. "But then I would say that's not uncommon. I believe everybody today, especially anybody in their 20's or 30's, especially the younger generation. My daughter, she's 4, she can use a tablet."

But doctors say as that generation gets older, more and more hospitals are treating a relatively new issue in society: Diagnosed internet addiction.

Dr. Kimberly Young runs the nation's first and only inpatient internet addiction center. She said just like folks with drug or alcohol addictions, people go through detox – only this one is a digital detox.

"I still understand it's controversial," Young said via Skype in Pennsylvania. "People say, 'is it really an addiction? Is it not? What's an addiction?' Well, anything obviously can be an addiction when you talk about something so serious that it's jeopardized relationships or careers."

She sees it all the time at the center, a 10-day program that costs people $14,000 out of pocket. Insurance companies aren't covering "internet addiction" treatment yet.

Young said the people she treats at the center aren't folks like Cole. It goes way beyond just being plugged in throughout the day.

The majority of patients she sees are gamers, the 20-somethings who spend up to 12 hours a day playing games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. She also sees patients with diagnosed addictions to cyber dating and online gambling.

These are people, Young says, whose lives are literally spinning out of control because they are obsessed with the Internet.

And when their use starts affecting other areas of life, that's when is becomes classified as "addiction."

"Really it's not about, 'Oh, I just use my iPhone too much,'" she said. "It's really become a very pathological sense. It's a compulsive disorder, something that you're not able to control, and now it's jeopardized something important in your life."

That's where Cole draws the line. He admits that 8 hours a day online is a lot, but he said understanding that it's just a laptop or a smartphone is the key.

Young was also quick to point out the many positives of the Internet. These addiction cases are still rare. She's hoping that her work will help bring more awareness to the people who really need help.

For more on her center, visit http://netaddiction.com/about-us/

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