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Is the Internet Driving Porn Addiction Among School-Aged Kids?

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Nathan Haug is an upstanding high school student, on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.  He has a high GPA, serves on the student council and swims competitively.  But Haug had a secret he kept hidden from his family and friends during his early teen years -- he suffered from an addiction to online pornography.

This 17-year-old from Alpine, Utah, is one of eight children, and one of the oldest still living at home.  He said his habit of looking at pornography on the Internet started when he was around 12 or 13 years old.

"It was kind of there, uninterrupted," he said.  "I became almost numb to it.  It became such a part of, pretty much my daily routine.  It was automatic."

And Haug is far from alone.  There is still little research on how many U.S. kids are addicted to online pornography, but a University of New Hampshire study reports exposure begins young -- for some, as young as 8 years old.

Of course, pornography isn't new.  But it's a quantum leap from a world where pornography came in magazines and on tape, to where it's available on our smartphones and tablets -- or at the click of a mouse.

The warning signs for those who become addicted may include depression, poor school performance, self-isolation and lying.

While the American Psychological Association has not yet classified pornography as a listed addiction, some professionals working in the field are treating it as such.  Psychotherapist Matt Bulkley in Saint George, Utah, treats teenagers exclusively, some of whom have committed sexual offenses and some who are just hooked.

"A lot of times the pornography becomes a coping style," Bulkley said.  "It becomes a way that they deal with negative emotions in their life, pornography provides a euphoria.  It provides a high, of sorts."

Bulkley estimated that in the next five to 10 years, as the next generation moves into adolescence, online pornography addiction will become an epidemic.

Some studies show that seven out of 10 teens have been accidentally exposed to pornography online.  Boys are more likely to view it, but more girls are getting hooked too.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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