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Church leaders challenged to support internet addicts

It comes as fears are raised that computer gaming, pornography and even shopping on the internet are devastating lives in the same way as drinking, taking drugs and gambling.

Psychologist Carol Foster told Premier: "I don't think that is overplaying it at all, because they're all detrimental to one's wellbeing.

"It is an issue that has to be dealt with. Therefore it is up to the leaders within that fellowship, and for people to be totally honest with each other to get the support that they need."

She added that it is not solely young people who are affected.

"It is absolutely everybody. Addiction is essentially a form of pleasure. We have seen an increase in gaming shops all over the place. Obviously people must be going to them and then getting addicted.

"Pornography has always been a issue. Some people say it is not a bad addiction but the consequences can be extremely harmful.

"As every woman knows we do love shopping but it can become an addiction."

A specialist clinic in Fulham, West London - the Centre for Compulsive and Addictive Behaviours - is now receiving referrals from all over the country.

It has prompted debate over whether the NHS should be funding this type of treatment when the health service budget is particularly tight.

Roger Goss, co-director of the campaign group Patient Concern, said: "The onus is on the NHS to make sure they are treating people where they think the risks are very serious."

But author and psychotherapist Lucy Beresford said: "I would have no issue with NHS funds being used to help people with these kind of addictions."

Carol Foster argues that a lack of investment in treatment could spell financial disaster for those sucked in to online addictions such as gaming.

"Even though there is no money involved initially, it is giving us a kick. It is making us think that it is a really wonderful thing and so we want to keep on doing it. So eventually when you have to pay, you don't stop and think about the consequences."

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