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Center Tries to Treat Web Addicts


Published: September 5, 2009

FALL CITY, Wash. (AP) — Ben Alexander spent nearly every waking minute playing the video game "World of Warcraft." As a result, he flunked out of the University of Iowa.

Mr. Alexander, 19, needed help to break an addiction that he called as destructive as alcohol or drugs. He found it in Fall City, where what claims to be the first residential treatment center for Internet addiction in the United States just opened its doors.

The center, called ReSTART, opened in July, and for $14,000 it offers a 45-day program intended to help people wean themselves from pathological computer use.

"We've been doing this for years on an outpatient basis," said Hilarie Cash, a therapist and executive director of the center. "Up until now, we had no place to send them."

Internet addiction is not recognized as a separate disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and treatment is not generally covered by insurance. But there are many such treatment centers in China, South Korea and Taiwan, where Internet addiction is taken very seriously, and many psychiatric experts say it is clear that Internet addiction is real and harmful.

Whether such programs work in the long run remains to be seen.

The five-acre center in Fall City, about 30 miles east of Seattle, can handle up to six patients at a time. Mr. Alexander is so far the only patient of the program, which uses a cold-turkey approach. He spends his days in counseling and psychotherapy sessions, doing household chores, working on the grounds, going on outings, exercising and baking cookies.

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. Ms. Cash, co-author of the book "Video Games and Your Kids," started dealing with Internet addiction in 1994, with a patient she said was so consumed by video games that his marriage ended and he lost two jobs.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 6, 2009, on page A18 of the New York edition.

Read the article from the New York Times.