China is expected to become the first nation in the world to recognize “internet addiction” as a clinical disorder and register the condition with the World Health Organization.

The Times Online says the Chinese Health Ministry plans to adopt the diagnosis next year, based on years of research by Chinese psychologists. Tao Ran, who set up China’s first internet addiction clinic at the Military General Hospital in Beijing, said his studies of more than 3000 people over four years led him to determine that the condition is legitimate, 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,” he said. “We had a sufficient sample of patients so that we could carry out proper scientific analysis.”

Tao said internet addicts spend 6.13 hours per day online, a figure that matches up nicely with that of experts in the U.S., who say that 6.14 hours represents addiction; in the U.S., however, internet addiction is not recognized as an actual illness. Officials in China estimate that about ten percent of “young users,” the great majority of whom are male, are addicted to the internet, while research by media company InterActiveCorp found that 42 percent of young users in China felt addicted to the internet, compared with only 18 percent in the U.S.

Tao added that internet addiction is often a symptom of deeper psychological issues, pointing out that behavioral problems, criminal activity and drug use often preceded the addiction; according to statistics compiled by the Beijing Public Security Bureau, about 76 percent of “juvenile criminals” are addicted to the internet. Some addicts also experience suicidal tendencies, Tao said.

He noted that unlike drugs, the internet does not create a dependency, and claims about a 70 percent success rate in curing his patients. The spread of internet addiction appears to be slowing in China as well, which he attributed to the rapid expansion of treatment clinics across the country. “The increase now is not as rapid as it was a few years ago,” he said. “However, this was the first such clinic in China when it opened in 2005. Now there are several hundred across the country.”

via: Ars Technica


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