So, let’s talk tech de-addiction centres

Tech de-addiction centres around the world are giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘modern-day epidemics’ — and no, we aren’t talking about a regular old digital detox

Published - February 18, 2019 04:24 pm IST

As new technologies, whether it is social media, coding or virtual reality pornography, are unleashed on the world, each coming generation is saddled with the greater potential to be addicted to them.

What is it about these technologies that have given their corresponding addictions their own rehabilitation centres? Each have their own pull factors and they each require tailored treatment programmes. And because of the immersive qualities of cryptography and virtual reality, the relationship of ‘user and technology’ goes beyond the interaction.

Do addictions like these need specific centres to be treated? Shyam Bhat, mental wellness expert at Cure.Fit, points out, “In recent years, ‘addiction’ has expanded to include not just substances, but also behaviours of all kinds — sex, shopping, gambling, and the internet. However, the underlying mechanisms of addiction are similar, no matter what a person is addicted to. It isn’t useful to expand the number of disorders — internet addiction is not a separate disease from other categories of addiction, and as such does not need a specific centre for treatment.”


Last year, ‘gaming disorder’ was listed in World Health Organisation’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. After this announcement, clinics set up tailored programmes for gaming addictions. Don’t be quick to point out a gaming addiction though. According to WHO, “the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”

Look to Thailand’s Tambon Huay Sai if you’re spending an exhaustive amount of time on the gaming consoles. The Edge clinic, known for its highly-specialised 90-day treatment, was created in collaboration with head of Cam Adair. Set in picturesque surroundings, the institute, as mentioned on their site, “uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices, and, where necessary, introduces a modern version of the 12 Steps. This has been proven to achieve breakthroughs in confronting destructive behaviours. At The Edge, participants experience two forms of counselling — individual sessions and group work — totalling 25 hours each week.” A combination of outdoor activities, social responsibility ventures and intense physical activity like rock climbing and horseback riding helps those afflicted find balance between the digital and real worlds. If the pictures on The Edge’s website are anything to go by, the programme costs a pretty penny.

Alpha Healing Centre near Vadodara in Gujarat has an integrated programme for gaming disorders. It is not a standalone institute, though. Manoj Sharma, who manages the SHUT clinic (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, specialises in cases related to Internet and gaming addiction and sees more than six patients every week. He says, “There are many adolescents brought in with addiction to online games and the internet. Unlike other addictions, where there are many physical withdrawal symptoms, Internet addiction is different. We usually conduct counselling sessions for those with symptoms of Internet addiction. It is important to generate awareness about this and get it treated quickly.”

Cryptic with crypto

Believe it or not, treatment facilities are a step ahead of the game. Castle Craig in Scotland became the first addiction treatment clinic to offer a 12-step treatment for people who are addicted to the trading of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ether and even Dogecoin.

Considering younger people have unrestricted access to these platforms, thanks to handheld devices and unmoderated access through laptops, the gateway to addiction is far greater.

According to a Q&A on the Castle Craig website, “It only becomes a problem for about 9 people in every 1000. However, a further 70 people out of every 1000 participate at risky levels that can become a problem in the future.”

Therapist Tony Marini, who overcame gambling addiction and is currently a therapist at Castle Craig, explains, “Addiction to the trading of cryptocurrencies comes about because people can get compulsive about watching the prices go up and down. Since the internet has brought share prices to everyone, via their smartphones, people can now view prices 24/7 and it can be exciting. I see cryptocurrency trading as a way for people to escape from themselves, into another world, because they don’t like the world they’re in — whether that be the thinking in their head or the emotions in their body. Addiction is escaping from our own emotions because we find it difficult to cope with the feelings that we have.”

Psychiatric talk

Speaking about addiction and the reasons, Shyam adds, “As with all addictions, Internet addiction is caused by multiple factors — in more than 70% of cases, a person has a mood disorder, like depression or anxiety, that makes them more vulnerable. As far as the brain and mind are concerned, all addictive behaviours and substances utilise similar biological mechanisms to create addiction — substances such as cocaine, and alcohol, and behaviours such as gambling, shopping, video games and social media all stimulate the reward centre of the brain, causing release of dopamine, and this cycle of pleasure and loss, creates craving and addiction. In fact, social media sites, and the gaming industry, use behavioural psychology to design addictive products. A big social reason is that people are more stressed and isolated; interaction has been replaced by social media, and people often use distractions available online as a means of coping with stress, which is similar to the use of alcohol to ease stress. Both may help in the short term, but using too much of it results in addiction and harm.”

‘Prevent the addiction’

Shyam points out the most important first step is to prevent the addiction; while we understand this is easier said than done, this is actually possible. “We should raise awareness amongst parents about the intensely addictive nature of the Internet and smartphones, and children should have only minimal access to the Internet and screen time. In general, a balanced lifestyle with time spent in nature, amidst greenery and fresh air, with exercise helps prevent the condition. A person must learn healthy ways of dealing with emotional issues rather than distracting or numbing oneself through Internet use.”

What you’ll notice is institutes like Craig Castle, however, do not use the term ‘cure’ in their treatment vernacular. After all, it does sound rather unrealistic. Tony rather uses the word ‘remission’. What do you guys think? Is it possible to cure a tech addiction, especially now?

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