Sat, Dec 29, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Technology addicts get help from Restart Life’s 12-step program

By Martha Irvine  /  AP, BELLEVUE, Washington

The young men sit in chairs in a circle in a small meeting room in suburban Seattle and introduce themselves before they speak. It is much like any other 12-step meeting, but with a twist.

“Hi, my name is,” each begins. Then something like: “And I’m an Internet and tech addict.”

The eight who gathered at the meeting are beset by a level of tech obsession that is different than it is for those of us who like to say we are addicted to our cellphones, or an app or some new show on a streaming video service. For them, tech gets in the way of daily functioning and self-care. We are talking flunk-your-classes, cannot-find-a-job, live-in-a-dark-hole problems, with depression, anxiety and sometimes suicidal thoughts part of the mix.

There is Christian, a 20-year-old university student from Wyoming who has a traumatic brain injury. His mom urged him to seek help because he was “medicating” his depression with video games and marijuana.

Seth, a 28-year-old from Minnesota, used video games and any number of things to try to numb his shame after a car he was driving crashed, seriously injuring his brother.

Wes, 21, an Eagle Scout and college student from Michigan, played video games 80 hours a week, only stopping to eat every two to three days. He lost 11kg and failed his classes.

Across town there is another young man who attended this meeting before his work schedule changed and his work places him squarely at risk of temptation.

He does cloud maintenance for a suburban Seattle tech company. For a self-described tech addict, this is like working in the lion’s den, laboring for the very industry that peddles the games, videos and other online content that long has been his vice.

“I’m like an alcoholic working at a bar,” the 27-year-old laments.

“The drugs of old are now repackaged. We have a new foe,” Cosette Rae says of the barrage of tech.

A former developer in the tech world, Rae heads a Seattle area rehabilitation center called Restart Life, one of the few residential programs in the US specializing in tech addiction.

Use of that word — addiction — when it comes to devices, online content and the like, is still debated in the mental health world, but many practitioners agree that tech use is increasingly intertwined with the problems of those seeking help.

An American Academy of Pediatrics review of worldwide research found that excessive use of video games alone is a serious problem for as many as 9 percent of young people. This summer, the WHO also added “gaming disorder” to its list of afflictions. A similar diagnosis is being considered in the US.

It can be a taboo subject in an industry that frequently faces criticism for using “persuasive design,” intentionally harnessing psychological concepts to make tech all the more enticing. That is why the 27-year-old who works at the tech company spoke on condition that his identity not be revealed. He fears that speaking out could hurt his fledgling career.

“I stay in the tech industry because I truly believe that technology can help other people,” the young man says.

He wants to do good.

However, as his coworkers huddle nearby, talking excitedly about their latest video game exploits, he puts on his headphones, hoping to block the frequent topic of conversation in this tech-centric part of the world.

Even the computer screen in front of him could lead him astray, but he digs in, typing determinedly on his keyboard to refocus on the task at hand.

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