Tech addicts seek out help
BELLEVUE, Wash. — 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’ve gathered here are beset by a level of tech obsession that’s different than it is for those of us who like to say we’re addicted to our phones 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’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 part of the mix.
There’s Christian, a 20-year-old college 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 25 pounds 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.
Wanting to do good
“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, she heads a Seattle area rehab center called reSTART Life, one of the few residential programs in the nation 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 World Health Organization also added “gaming disorder” to its list of afflictions. A similar diagnosis is being considered in the United States.