Youthful internet addicts flock to Kurihama for treatment

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"They don't fully understand the dangers of internet dependence. I'd say this is the case for a majority of physicians, parents and educators. They just don't take the matter seriously enough."

Speaking to Nikkan Gendai (Jan 16) is D. Susumu Higuchi, head of the Kurihama Medical Center in Kanagawa Prefecture. Japan's first facility for internet addiction since its opening in 2011, the center currently treats some 2,000 patients a year.

Internet dependence is defined as “Excessive playing of games or usage of SNSs, etc -- with the exception of necessary usage of the internet such as study or data collection -- that lead to various problems expressed in such ways as 'Cannot get up in the morning,' 'Can't go to school,' 'No appetite,' 'Failing grades,' etc."

Addiction manifests itself in the form of various physical complaints, including declining vision, headache, sluggishness due to lack of sleep, obesity, tendonitis, nutritional disorders, weight loss, decline in bone density, reduced cardiopulmonary function and developmental disorders.

"They don’t sleep. They don’t move. Before they got hooked on games, even formerly athletic kids score lower on tests of strength, reflexes, flexibility, grip and stamina," Higuchi says. "It's not rare to find kids still in their teens with cardiopulmonary levels of adults in their 30s or 40s."

"Since gamers and so on maintain the same posture for long periods, their blood vessels become susceptible to the same condition as economy class syndrome," he continues. "I've seen reports that their brains' frontal lobes takes on functioning similar to those of patients with alcohol and drug addition."

What's remarkable is how quickly one can become hooked.

"Full-blown dependence takes maybe a month, although some kids become hooked within as little as one week," says Higuchi, a clinical physician who is considered one of the nation's top authorities on alcohol and gambling dependence. He regards internet dependence among children to be exceptionally difficult to treat. Furthermore mobile devices enable young people to make use of SNSs constantly, so they are just as bad as playing online games.

And children are more vulnerable because they lacking in mature judgment, and easily allow their emotions to control them. They also stubbornly resist treatment.

If dependence is suspected, advises Higuchi, a parent needs to seek professional advice without delay.

"If a parent attempts to force the child to stop, he or she will just rebel. So the best way is to hear them out, and then get them to agree that, for instance, 'You can play up to (so many) hours.' And then you can set conditions in case they go back on their word."

Taking away their computer or game unit for having broken the agreed-upon rules can result in them going into hysterics, becoming violent or even attempting suicide. If it comes to that level, then it's beyond anything a parent can do, and intervention by a third party should be sought.

"If the third party doesn't understand the problem, and gives the wrong advicev -- like 'He'll get tired of it eventually so just let him keep playing' -- that won't work. Online games in particular are designed to keep the players from becoming bored, and keep tempting players."

The article wondered what normally hardworking fathers were doing during the recent new year's holidays. Did they spend quality time with their children. Or were their kids already too hooked to want to spend time with dad?

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"Full-blown dependence takes maybe a month, although some kids become hooked within as little as one week,"

I know over the last year I played the last major update to Path Of Exile hardcore for a weak before settling down into a more stable mode and now haven't played it for a couple of months.

I think this is typical of gamers as a group. If an exciting new expansion comes out for their favourite game, they hit it hard for a week or so and then go back to a normal life. I've known people organise a couple of weeks off work to do this in the past because they know their own pattern of behavior.

Shouldn't mistake that for an addiction.

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