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America's first Internet addiction detox program

Heavensfield Retreat Center, near Seattle, is offering a 45-day detox program to help those who are hopelessly addicted to the Web or gaming.

When stars need to wean their bodies off an excess of alcohol or drugs, they waft off to the Betty Ford Center or the Priory in London.

Now those who have allowed gaming or the Web to take over their lives have their own place of salvation in the United States.

Heavensfield Retreat Center in the kindly named Fall City, near Seattle, claims to have the first Internet addiction detox program in the States. Called ReStart, it essentially offers a 45-day detox from the need to socially network and game until your mind and fingers are more numb than a Jonas Brothers fan after a concert.

For $14,500, you can be saved from yourself and your virtual world. However, the criteria that the center uses to define Internet addiction make for interesting reading.

The first, for example, is: "Have a strong desire or impulse to use the Internet." I would have thought that, if this were the most important element, we should all be checking in now. And who among us could resist blogging about it afterward?

Here's criterion No. 4: "Use of Internet in spite of its harmful effects; despite knowledge of harmful effects, Internet use is hard to stop."

For some, it really is a war against Warcraft. CC Adactio/Flickr

Do we really know just how much the Web is harming us? Isn't it supposed to be enlightening us, bringing us closer together, and turning us into the human informational machines of the Singularity Age?

Still, the center's last criterion, No. 9, does come some way toward defining the serious and painful nature of Internet addiction: "Everyday life and social function is impaired (e.g., in social, academic, and workability.)"

King 5 News reported on the program's first patient, 19-year-old Ben Alexander of Iowa City, who became addicted to World of Warcraft.

"I would play until I fell asleep at my keyboard," he said.

His schoolwork began to suffer, and his parents checked him into the center. Now he looks after the goats and chickens, and goes cross-country running. He said he knows that the Web will still be a part of his life but that he feels the center has given him a new balance.

Indeed, there is much concern generally about gamers' health and whether, for example, a lack of light is contributing to their alleged ill-being. Are those who become overweight or depressed already inclined to do so, or does gaming have some influence?

As has been shown over the decades, sometimes rehab works, and sometimes it doesn't.

So perhaps the most valuable information to come from the center in the long run is whether, as with other addictions, there are certain psychological predispositions to Web addiction and whether there really ever can be a cure for something that has become so central to the way we live.

In case any of you were wondering, the ReStart program is not covered by health insurance. Yet.