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Former Iowa City man is first to use Internet addiction treatment program: Substance abuse treatment did not help him
[August 22, 2009]

Former Iowa City man is first to use Internet addiction treatment program: Substance abuse treatment did not help him

Aug 22, 2009 (The Gazette - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The seductive lure of Internet gaming can be as addictive as drugs or alcohol, according to a former Iowa City family.

Ben Alexander, 19, a 2008 graduate of Iowa City High School, is the first patient at a new Internet addiction treatment center near Seattle.

"I was getting really close to flunking out of college," Alexander said of the realization he needed help breaking from World of Warcraft, an online roleplaying game.

He has 20 days left in a 45-day pro gram at the new reStart: Internet Addiction Recovery Program in Fall City, Wash.

"We're starting to see more and more of this, especially with young people because they're on their computers all the time," said Anne Helene Skinstad, program director at Prairielands Addiction Technology Transfer Center. The University of Iowa-based center is not affiliated with reStart.

Alexander enrolled last fall at the UI, intending to major in biology.

Instead, he rarely left his dorm room.

Mornings would begin with an intended quick check of the Internet, but turn into an entire day on the computer game, rather than going to class.

"It escalates until you can't control it anymore," said his mother, Linda Alexander, 52, of Black Hawk, Colo., a former columnist for The Gazette.

Her son didn't use drugs, but the only help they could find was an inpatient alcohol/substance abuse treatment program. His father, Peter Alexander, 64, tried to help his son after the couple bought their Colorado home.

Still in Iowa City as director of the UI Arts Center Relations at the time, he set limits on his son's computer use to help him in the spring semester.

"When denied access, he turned to almost any kind of computer game he could get," he said. "I thought of it as being like the alcoholic who drinks cough medicine when he can't get whiskey." Ben Alexander said he wasn't getting help in the substance abuse program and left before it ended.

He completed a 10-week wilderness program before entering reStart in late July.

Dan Alpers, 33, president of Central Corridor Gamers in Cedar Rapids, said some people who play Internet games have difficulty socializing and find people with similar qualities online. His group involves face-toface card games, such as Pokemon, but any game can be addictive, he said.

Still, he questioned the need to treat Internet addiction, saying the focus should be on what the person is trying to escape through that behavior.

The reStart program was begun to address an unmet need, said clinical social worker Cosette Rae, who co-founded reStart after seeing patients in her psychotherapy practice who needed help. Similar to gambling or alcohol, Rae said, some people can set limits, but others use the Internet as an escape that ultimately interferes with relationships, school and work.

The program, which costs $14,500, and is covered by some insurance, is individually tailored.

Alexander has been running with an ultramarathoner, playing his violin and practicing meditation and yoga. He hasn't used a computer.

The goal is to develop a plan for a job and return to the UI in 2010.

"I'm certainly not going back to that game anytime soon," he said.

aEUR" Contact the writer: (319) 398-8428 or cindy. To see more of The Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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