11 November 2008
by Malcolm Moore
China is likely to become the first country in the world to officially recognise internet addiction as a clinical disease as it battles with the increasing number of people who spend almost of their time in chatrooms, blogging or playing online games.
The ministry of health should adopt a new definition of internet addiction next year, which lists symptoms of the addiction including irritation, difficulty in concentration or sleeping, mental or physical distress and a yearning to get back online.
Addicts are classified as users who spend at least six hours online a day.
The manual was drawn up by psychologists who studied 1,300 “Problematic” internet users. One-tenth of surfers under 18, or four million people, are addicted, mainly to online gaming.
Meanwhile, a poll by InterActiveCorp, an online media company, showed that 42 per cent of Chinese youths “Felt” addicted to the Web, compared to 18 per cent in the United States.
Tao Ran, an expert at Beijing’s Military General Hospital, which drew up the diagnosis, said special psychiatric units in Chinese hospitals would be designated to treat addicts.
“Eighty percent of addicts can be cured with treatment, which usually lasts about three months,” said Mr Tao, without describing what might be involved.
Mr Tao runs a “Boot camp” in Daxing, a suburb of Beijing, one of several hundred across the country. During the therapy, Mr Tao, who built his career on treating heroin addicts, offers addicts counselling, military discipline, hypnosis and mild electro-shock therapy to help them reform.
The popularity of online gaming in Asia has led to the creation of enormous salons in which hundreds of users play games for several days in a row.
China’s government has already tried to limit this practice by forcing each user to register their full name and identification number and by building software into the games which kicks players off after five hours.
Gao Wenbin, a researcher with the psychology institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said Chinese youths were finding refuge online from the pressures of being only children. “Most children in China are the only ones in their families. They are told only to study hard, but no one really cares about their needs,” he said.