By Elizabeth Daley
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Smartphones are getting smarter, laptops are becoming increasingly portable - and people who just cannot put them down are finding more remedies.
The latest clinic treating the growing number of Americans addicted to the Internet will open next week in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Kimberly Young, a psychologist who heads the new program at Bradford Regional Medical Center, a public hospital about 160 miles (257 km) north of Pittsburgh, said that since 1994 she has privately treated thousands of people who cannot control their online activity.
"A lot of countries do prevention and education surrounding the issue, and we Americans are just starting to think in those terms," Young said.
South Korea and China are leaders in this treatment field, she said.
With about 75 percent of U.S. adults online, Young called the Internet a "new outlet for traditional addictions," including pornography, shopping and gambling.
At the same time, she said, the Web allows for new and unique behaviours, such as compulsive use of social media.
Although "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" from the American Psychiatric Association does not formally recognize Internet addiction as an illness, the most recent volume listed "Internet Use Disorder" as a subject worthy of further study.
The Pennsylvania program joins inpatient treatment offered in Illinois since the mid 1990s as well as Internet detox centres like Washington state's reStart, which opened in 2009 and gives patients the chance to abstain from technology use for a period of time.
In Connecticut, Dr. David Greenfield, a psychiatrist who founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and teaches at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, prescribes installation of website blocking and monitoring software for his patients' computers.
"Patients' social skills atrophy, and they don't know how to live in a real time world," said Greenfield. He asks his patients to list 100 things they can do in the "real world" rather than reading their Facebook feeds, fussing with their Apple iPhones or escaping into their Microsoft Xbox games.
Among the physical threats posed by Internet addiction are obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome and deep vein thrombosis, he said.
Out-of-pocket costs for Internet addiction treatment can range from upwards of $8,000 for outpatient services and more than $14,000 for inpatient options, Greenfield said.
Young said there was not yet a standard treatment protocol, but hopes her new program can offer data to lead doctors in the right direction.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Von Ahn)