The nation's first inpatient Internet addiction and recovery program - pioneered by a St. Bonaventure University professor - will begin admitting patients next week.
The 10-day behavioral health program is housed at Bradford Regional Medical Center, part of the Upper Allegheny Health System and a sister hospital to Olean General Hospital.
Geared toward adults who have been unsuccessful on their own at overcoming excessive use of the Internet and electronic gaming, the program was developed based on 20 years of research by Dr. Kimberly Young, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction. At Bona, she is program director for the Master's degree program in strategic leadership and also teaches in the journalism/mass communication department.
She also recognizes the irony of her own situation: The master's program Young teaches at Bona is offered exclusively online.
"It shows I believe in online learning and education," she said.
The medical part of the program - built on evidence-based medicine - is important, she said, because like with other addictions, it's not just about the consequences of having the item in their lives. It's also about how it impacts everyone around the addict. She pointed to research that showed anxiety and depression in Internet addicts when deprived of their laptop or phone for just 24 hours.
"We don't realize how pervasive this is in our lives, especially for someone who has this problem," she said. "This is their way of life, they become overly dependent on it. Now they need to find a way I think of trying to deal with how to have a new way of living with technology that's not completely consumed by it."
Just like patients at programs for drug and alcohol addiction, those entering the program at Bradford will first undergo a body search before entering the ward. Patients begin with a 72-hour digital device detox, followed by a psychiatric evaluation, group and individual counseling.
After the detox and counseling, technology is slowly reintroduced so the patients relearns how to use technology.
"This is like a digital diet," Young said. "Just like a food addiction, where you're not going to live without food, you're not going to live without technology. It's not like alcohol where we don't need it in our daily life."
Bradford's program is the first inpatient Internet addiction program in the United States, which also means the $14,000 cost is not covered by insurance. Young, who just returned from a trip to Australia where she met with several hospitals, said the U.S. is behind other countries, where Internet addiction is a recognized addiction. Korea has over 100 treatment centers; while Japan has Internet "fasting" camps to help addicts overcome their problem.
Here in the U.S., Young has also talked with retreat centers that offer things like horseback riding or meditation that are interested in hosting workshops for their therapists. But that's completely different than what Bradford will offer, she said.
"The unique part of this program is this is a medical hospital. There's psychiatric testing and evaluation - this isn't a retreat center," she said.