Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Technology addicts offered treatment

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology Reporter, BBC News

mobile phone users
The therapy is aimed at "screenagers" - teens who spend hours a day online.

Technology addicts can now seek treatment at a London hospital which has launched bespoke treatment for those diagnosed with the condition.

The programme is designed for young people who spend large amounts of time each day playing computer games or using social network websites.

When deprived they become "chronically agitated and irritable" said the treatment's founder Dr Richard Graham.

Dr Graham's treatment programme lasts 28 days if done intensely.

However it is not designed to wean people entirely off using technology, he told BBC News.

"It's not realistic to have an abstinence programme," he said.

At the moment the treatment is only available to private patients at the Capio Nightingale hospital, where Dr Graham is Lead Young Person's Technology Addiction Consultant.

"The number of genuine technology addicts is fairly low but it could rise with online gaming where, unlike standalone gaming, the game never stops," said Mark Griffiths, Professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University.

"Most addictive behaviours peak in youth and you're more likely to be male - but the internet is gender neutral. Women might be put off going into a real betting shop for example, but you can be whatever you want to be online."

Dr Graham's motivation for creating the treatment stemmed from a concern about the "compulsive and addictive quality" of games, social media and mobile phones.

"The preoccupation with accessing sites and responding to messages is so compelling that it gets prioritised... it can impact on other areas of life and skew young people's ability to engage in other activities."

Desperate behaviour

Online gambling clinics have already sprung up across South East Asia, where excessive amounts of time spent in virtual worlds is causing real life problems.

A recent example is that of a South Korean couple who let their baby starve while they played role-playing game Prius Online for up to 12 hours at a time.

The behaviour of such addicts can be "desperate and extreme" said Dr Graham.

The treatment Dr Graham has designed is in three stages. It begins with psychotherapy designed to address the patient's issues with face-to-face relationships.

The next stage is to unpick their relationship with technology and encourage them to switch it off, and finally they are encouraged to take part in both physical exercise and activities with family and friends.

"Any therapy should be about getting behaviour back under control," said Prof Griffiths.

"You can't avoid the internet, you can't avoid technology."

The clinic currently has no presence online outside of the hospital's own website, although a link-up with well-being service Big White Wall is being discussed.

In the world of therapy there is something about being in a room with other people - it's part of the treatment
Dr Richard Graham

"In the world of therapy there is something about being in a room with other people - it's part of the treatment," said Dr Graham.

An approach to World of Warcraft creators Blizzard had failed as they were not keen on a "cybershrink" presence inside the game, he added.

Visitors to the hospital website can take a test to gauge their level of technology addiction, answering questions about their online habits and how these habits are perceived by others.

Dr Graham himself says the pace of change in technology has exhausted him.

"I have found that my gadget fatigue has grown over the last decade... but developments in the audio/visual world have led to sound and pictures that are just brilliant. I suppose that's my drug."

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