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UPDATED: December 16, 2008 NO. 51 DEC. 18, 2008
Hooked on Cyberspace
Chinese psychologists outline criteria for Internet addiction

Many netizens dropped comments on Web forums expressing their doubts about the manual, saying that they could not accept they might be suffering from mental illness just because they spent too much time on the Internet.

Liu Bo, 24, a technician at a Beijing-based computer company, feels it is ridiculous to consider Internet addiction a mental disease. He admitted he was hooked on Web-based games before he found his current job.

"I actually spent more than six hours a day playing games online and that lasted for months, as I could not find a job after graduating from university," he told Beijing Review. "But now I have no time to play games as I have a job," he said, adding that he believes the problem of being addicted to the Internet can solved in many ways, including personal efforts and psychological help.

Commenting on the public's cynicism over this issue, Tao said there is a misunderstanding of the manual. Explaining that IAD sufferers are not "crazy people," he calls on society at large to change their understanding of mental disease. "Mental disease covers a wide range of psychological or behavioral problems, such as depression, neurasthenia and hysteria," he said.

According to Tao, not everyone who log on the Internet for long periods is an IAD sufferer. "A person who uses the Internet for over 10 hours a day for the need of work should not be seen as an Internet addict," he said.

Professional skepticism

Some experts welcome Tao's manual on diagnosing net addiction. Hao Xianghong, Secretary General of the China Youth Association for Network Development, said in the Chongqing-based Popular Computer Week that the manual is an active response of the medical and psychological communities to the problem of Internet addiction.

However, many in the medical profession are still concerned that the IAD diagnosing manual might make teenagers feel added pressure, which would directly affect their psychological health. Tao Hongkai, a professor at Central China Normal University who has been engaged in helping teenagers fight Internet addiction for years, said in Beijing Evening News that juvenile net addicts can rather recover in a relaxed and encouraging educational way along with proper psychological therapy.

The manual has not struck a resonant chord with all psychiatrists either. Huang Yueqin, Deputy Director of the Institute of Mental Health at Peking University, told China News Weekly that it still needs the recognition of psychiatrists to classify Internet addiction as an independent sector of psychiatry.

Causes of Internet Addiction Disorder

The Internet Addiction Disorder diagnostic manual approved by psychologists on November 8 divides Internet addiction into five categories, which are addiction to online games, pornography, social networking, Internet information and Internet shopping.

In China, online games addiction dominates, said Tao Ran, Director of the Addiction Studies Center at the Military General Hospital of Beijing PLA. "Addicts to Internet games account for the majority of IAD patients in China, who are mostly boys. This is followed by addicts of online chatting, who are mostly girls," he said.

China now has 40 million underage netizens, 10 percent of whom are addicted to the Internet. Teenagers between 13 and 17 years old occupy the highest proportion of Internet addicts, and around 9 percent of college students suffer IAD to some extent.

Tao said that Beijing Public Security Bureau statistics showed that 76 percent of juvenile crimes were committed by Internet addicts, which shows that Internet addiction has become a big social problem in China.

Regarding the reasons that cause teenage Internet addiction, Tao said family ranked first. Parents who are violent toward their children and families where relationships are not good drive children to seek consolation from the Internet, he said.

Tao stresses the important role that the father plays in a family. He said that among the Internet addiction sufferers received by the juvenile psychological hospital ward, the first Internet addiction treatment center in China founded in 2005, 95 percent were boys who lacked the love of a father.

Besides family, Tao said that school and society should also provide conditions to prevent teenagers from overindulging in the Internet.

Although juvenile Internet addicts are the majority, Tao said adults could also suffer from addiction. "Under heavy pressure in life or work, some adults hope to escape reality or release their emotions in cyberspace," he said. According to him, the number of Internet addicts has risen to 13 percent of the total netizens of China, with the addiction rate reaching 13.6 percent in Beijing.


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