The Rise of the Internet-Addiction Industry – The Atlantic

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“This is the frontier. It’s a little like the wild, wild, west,” says Jason Calder, a clinical mental-health counselor and the director of the adolescent Internet-addiction recovery program at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions in Utah.

Outback gives the parents of prospective patients questionnaires to assess the severity of the situation and to identify any underlying mental-health conditions that might be driving their son or daughter to abuse technology. Red flags include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, as well as failed attempts to cut back on time spent online.   

For at least some parents, the decision to send a child to Outback is a last resort. Getting a teenager to treatment can look and feel like staging an intervention. Griffin, a 16-year-old former patient whose last name has been withheld to protect his privacy, was abruptly awoken one night in his Orange County, California, home to find he was being sent away at that very moment. “I was really confused. I didn’t know where I was going,” he recalls. “They just said I was going to get better.”

Griffin was driven from his home to the airport, where he boarded a plane to Utah. Next, he was shuttled to Outback’s headquarters in Lehi. After passing a medical exam to make sure he was physically fit for treatment, Griffin was taken out into the desert.

Mental-health experts who say that Internet addiction exists are quick to point out that simply counting up the hours spent online is not enough for a diagnosis. Instead, they say, Internet use must significantly and adversely affect daily life—causing relationships, work, or health to suffer—to qualify as an addiction. Griffin’s mother Noelle, 43, says that before he went to Outback, he shunned friends and family and neglected school to play online video games for hours on end. Noelle says Griffin struggles with anxiety and depression, and believes her son turned to Internet gaming as a way to cope.

After what Noelle describes as unsuccessful attempts to get Griffin to cut back, she felt Outback was her only hope—but feared that if she told him he would be sent away, he might refuse to go. “It was a scary decision, but he desperately needed help,” Noelle explains. “I felt more safe at that point having him out in the middle of the wilderness with wild animals and in a tent than having him at home.”


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