When many people start college, there might be a learning curve brought on by the need to now self-regulate maybe the new-found freedom translates into late nights spent browsing the Internet, and grades consequently suffer.
But sometimes that browsing becomes more damaging than just lowered GPA s students show signs of being addicted to the Internet.
According to the Social Lives vs. Social Networks study commissioned by social networking site Badoo, 71% of those with Internet addiction are between the ages of 18 to 24. The study also found that 39% of Americans spend more time socializing online than they do in-person.
Now, many are tackling this recent addiction with varying tactics, with the Chinese medical community at the forefront and the United States following behind.
Frequently as a result of substandard performance in college, students in China are being forced into military-style boot camps for what the country has labeled Internet addiction disorder. Often tricked into the camp by worried parents who feel that their child s grades are a reflection of their social media use, web surfing, or online gaming, students are left to harshly reprogram their habits over a period of three to six months.
Favoring military style drills and exercises over talk therapy, the camps, now numbering more than 250, have also been criticized over abuse allegations and several deaths that have occurred on their premises, as reported by ABC News. Several patients have been beaten to death after failing to complete orders.
In 2008, China became the first country in the world to consider Internet addiction a clinical disorder and the high numbers of those afflicted attest to that as reported by China Daily, the country has an estimated 24 million Internet addicts.
But China s youth are certainly not the only ones facing this new technological phenomenon.
Like the Chinese, studies have shown that young Americans also use the Internet for coping.
Patrick Snipes, a 24-year-old graduate from Georgia State University in Atlanta, says he spends an average of six hours a day online for non-work related use.
Without Internet, I am often left with my own thoughts. [Being that I m] in recovery for substance abuse, this is very anxiety provoking, he says. I need the distraction so I am not tempted to use again.
Jasmine Jones, also a student at GSU, went from four hours of Internet use a day down to one, with no cell phone reception, after moving to a remote national park in Alaska for an internship.
[This] was the first time in my life where I really didn t have access to 24/7 Internet. The first two weeks were horrible, she says. I was so used to being connected to everyone I knew all the time, I would keep picking up my phone and carrying it around despite the fact I knew I didn t have cell reception or Internet to connect to.
Fortunately for students, some American universities are starting to include the treatment of Internet addiction in their counseling centers.
Workshops instructing students about healthy Internet use are also popping up around the country, and administrators are encouraging their students to participate in university-wide days of unplugging.
Though clearly diagnosing Internet addiction disorder has been met with trepidation, the American medical community is nevertheless beginning to take it more seriously as well.
Despite not being officially included in the 2013 update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, or DSM-5, gaming disorder, compulsive and disruptive playing of video games, was listed for the first time. It was placed in the manual s third section, however, stating that it needs more research before it can be measured for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder.
But there is still hope of professional treatment for those seeking out a less intense version of China s boot camps.
reSTART, the United States first internet addiction recovery program located in Fall City, Wash., was established in 2009 to help people with technological dependency issues, regardless of the DSM-5 s exclusion of the disorder.
Hilarie Cash, licensed therapist and founder of the program, defines Internet addiction as: problematic overuse of digital media. She goes on to say, we can call it problematic because it takes priority over everything else health, sleep, exercise, friends, family and school work. It is an addiction when it becomes the central focus in a person s life.
The bulk of their patients are 18 to 24 years old and have dropped out of college due to Internet addiction problems. In working with them, reSTART hopes to break the cycle of dependency through a four-phase treatment plan.
The program operates on two main phases. The first phase primarily consists of what we call an unplugged retreat, a 45 to 90 day digital technology detox. During this time, we try to keep them as far away from digital technology as possible, she says.
Once they graduate to phase two, they go into apartment living with other members of the program and focus on skill building. Counselors come on site for psychoeducation, individual and group therapy and coaches help with resume building and offer college advice, she says. During this phase we gradually introduce digital technology again, as it s a reality that they will have to use it, but we do it in a very circumscribed, protected way.
After completing the first two phases, most patients either choose to stay at the program for more independent treatment, or move back to college or work with the help of the reSTART staff.
She says that the vast majority of their patients come in with another previously diagnosed disorder, which is usually a case of anxiety and depression. Many also have Attention Deficit Disorder and about a third show traits of Asperger s syndrome. The program, however, has been known to help alleviate some of those problems.
After the detox, most of their depression and anxiety clears up. Even the ADD traits improve. So, once the detox is complete, it becomes much clearer how to best address some of these overlapping issues.
Cash says actually diagnosing patients can be very complicated, however. With all of these co-occurring problems, we have to ask ourselves where they came from. Intense gaming and internet usage from an early age can result in falling behind on learning social cues, so some of these Asperger s traits may actually be from that.
Though it s been garnering more widespread acceptance, some in the medical community such as Allen Frances, chairman of the DSM-5 task force feel that Internet addiction disorder isn t a realistic diagnosis. Cash says that is ignorant.
[If they don t believe in it], they have not been reading the research. When you read the research about how the brain of an Internet addict lights up, how MRI s show identical results to someone on cocaine, you will see that the same neurological processes are at work. Both ways get the same result a high.
For those looking to cut back on their own Internet usage, Cash believes taking a technology diet is the best fix.
Give yourself a one day, complete abstinence from everything digital once a week a one day fast. It will help maintain a balance and put back receptors and dopamine where they need to be, she says. Likewise, give yourself no more than two to three hours of personal computer time a day. This becomes a tech diet, and if you can pursue that diet, it will probably allow you to not get heavily addicted.