FALL CITY, Wash. - The first in-patient treatment center in the country for Internet addiction just opened in Fall City. The first patient was 19.
"I would play until I would fall asleep on my keyboard," said Ben Alexander. "my game of choice was World of Warcraft."
It became his only world. He eventually dropped out of school.
"It says in fact, it's not a game it's a world," said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, who directs the Center For Child Health Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital.
Internet addiction isn't an officially recognized disorder in the U.S., but he says parents have cause to worry.
"The phenomenon of Internet addiction has been studied extensively in Asia. And estimates there vary from four to 10 percent of children actually being affected," he said.
In a new study, Taiwanese researchers found students with ADHD, hostility, depression and social phobia were twice as likely as others to develop internet addictions.
"But those risk factors aren't the only thing that put children at risk. All children are at risk. It's just that some children are more at risk than others," said Dr. Christakis.
Experts say warning signs of addiction include preoccupation with the internet, failed attempts to cut back, lying about time spent online, and getting angry or sad if screen time is limited.
Games like World of Warcraft hook players up with teammates all over the world. If parents don't limit a child's screen time, they pose a special risk.
"When it's bedtime here, it's morning in Asia, and they're expecting you to be part of the team," said Dr. Christakis.
It's a team that Ben Alexander has finally turned his back on. He's on his way to winning the biggest battle of all.
"I'm not going to be able to say oh I'm not going to be online ever again or anything like that. But at this point I'm not really worried about it," he said.
Dr. Christakis says one of the most important ways parents can help their kids is to model appropriate behavior. Kids pay attention to how much time you spend on the internet.
The most recent figures show kids between 8 and 18 doubled their play time on the Internet between 1999 and 2004.