We like to say we're addicted to our phones or an app or some new show on a streaming video service. But for some people, tech gets in the way of daily functioning and self-care. We're talking flunk-your-classes, can't-find-a-job, live-in-a-dark-hole kinds of problems, with depression, anxiety, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Suburban Seattle, a major tech center, has now become a hub for help for so-called "tech addicts," with residential rehab, psychologists who specialize in such treatment, and 12-step meetings, the AP reports. "The drugs of old are now repackaged. We have a new foe," Cosette Rae says of the barrage of tech. Rae heads a Seattle area rehab center called reSTART Life, one of the few residential programs in the nation specializing in tech addiction. Use of the word "addiction" when it comes to devices, online content, and such is still debated in the mental health world, but many practitioners agree tech use is increasingly intertwined with those seeking help.
An American Academy of Pediatrics review found excessive use of video games alone is a serious problem for as many as 9% of young people; this summer, WHO added "gaming disorder" to its list of afflictions. "I had to be convinced that this was a 'thing,'" says Walker, a 19-year-old from Washington whose parents insisted he get help via a 12-step program after video gaming trashed his first semester of college. Help is found at facilities like reSTART, where clients "detox" from tech at a secluded ranch and move on to a group home. They commit to eating well, regular sleep and exercise, and giving up video games or any other problem content, as well as drugs and alcohol, if those are issues. They use monitored smartphones with limited function: calls, texts, and emails and access to maps. Walker leans on his 12-step sponsor, Charlie, a fellow tech addict. "He has a place of his own," Walker says. "He has a dog. He has friends." That's what Walker wants for himself.
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