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Internet addiction made an official disorder in China

China could become the first country to classify internet addiction as a clinical disorder and plans to lead the world by registering the condition with the World Health Organisation.

Beijing’s Health Ministry is expected to adopt a new manual on internet addiction next year, based on the research of Chinese psychologists. It will recognise the condition as similar to compulsive gambling or alcoholism.

“China finds itself at the forefront of this research because we were among the earliest to set up clinics . . . we had a sufficient sample of patients so that we could carry out proper scientific analysis,” Tao Ran, who set up China’s first internet addiction clinic at the Military General Hospital in Beijing, told The Times.

He said that he had reached his conclusion by studying more than 3,000 people over four years.

China has the world’s largest online population at 253 million people and many younger web users are inveterate participants in gaming sessions. Internet cafés in large cities and remote villages are crowded with mainly young men glued to the screen as they engage in battles with rival players.

Dr Tao said that he compared his data with that of experts in the United States, where internet addiction is not recognised as a disease. He had determined that an addict spent 6.13 hours online each day, a figure that coincided with the US assessment of 6.14 hours a day. Research by the internet media company InterActiveCorp showed that 42 per cent of Chinese youngsters polled felt addicted to the internet, compared with 18 per cent in the US. Surveys by the China Network Information Centre showed that nearly half of China’s online population were aged between 18 and 30.

According to Chinese estimates, about 10 per cent of young users suffer from addiction and of those about 70 per cent are male. Dr Tao says that the condition is often merely a symptom of deeper psychological problems. Almost all child addicts have behavioural problems, which are then aggravated by their addiction. Before they came to the internet, they may have turned to crime or drugs to cope with their feelings of alienation, he said. Some were suicidal.

His clinic treats patients who may also suffer from depression, fear and an unwillingness to interact with others. Many have sleep disorders. They cease to communicate with family or friends and live huddled in front of a computer screen, drifting through chat rooms or playing violent games. Common to all his patients are family problems.

Unlike drugs, the internet does not create dependency, and Dr Tao places his success rate of curing patients at about 70 per cent. He said: “The increase now is not as rapid as it was a few years ago. However, this was the first such clinic in China when it opened in 2005. Now there are several hundred across the country.” ...                                             Source: Times archives