18 May Internet Addiction Epidemic in China
In most parts of the world, Internet addiction is not officially a disorder. The main guide for diagnosing mental health conditions, called the DSM-V, does list Internet gaming disorder as a potential behavioral addiction warranting more study, but all of the other ways in which we can get hooked to our electronics have been officially overlooked. There is no formally recognized smartphone addiction or Facebook addiction. China, on the other hand, has recognized Internet disorder, largely because that country has 20 million addicts. This epidemic has led to interesting and controversial treatment camps, mostly designed to treat young people.
Internet Addiction Defined
The official recognition and definition of the disorder in China came in 2008, when a panel of medical experts agreed on a diagnostic description. Criteria for being diagnosed with the disorder include spending six hours a day online, not including work or academic study, feeling anxious when not online and having trouble sleeping. Many of the diagnosed addicts in China spend their time online engaged in activities like gaming, shopping, social networking and using pornography.
One of the biggest concerns today, several years after the official diagnostic definition of Internet addiction was made, is the use of the Internet by young people. Young Chinese are using the Internet more than ever before and most compulsive users are gaming. Many such users are even known to wear adult diapers to avoid having to get up to use the bathroom. The increase in Internet gaming addiction has been accompanied by such horrifying stories as the starvation death of a young girl whose parents couldn’t tear themselves away from a game.
Internet Addiction Boot Camps
Critics of the 2008 move to identify and describe Internet addiction claim that it was done so diagnoses could be made and treatments given. In other words, critics say the move was not based on science and research, but instead had an ulterior motive. The result has been an explosion of treatment centers, largely for young Internet addicts, which can be accurately described as boot camps. Tough love is an understatement at many of these facilities.
The Internet addiction camps in China are largely filled with teenagers and young adults, many of whom were forced to attend these prison-like settings. In some, the patients actually live behind bars. They are put through military-style training with physical labor and tough punishments for misbehaving. Proponents of the camps say these tough measures are needed. Some of the camps claim to have success rates of 70 percent.
The dark side of the Internet boot camps is the violence and the accidental deaths. Sometimes the deaths are the result of extreme conditions, including excessive exercise in either cold or hot weather. In other cases, the treatment providers resort to violence and young people end up dying, such as in the case of a girl who was dropped to the ground several times by an instructor. In another instance, a 19-year-old girl was beaten to death for using the bathroom without permission.
While Internet addiction may remain elusively uncategorized as a genuine disorder by many experts, others recognize that a large number of people have developed issues with using electronic devices. China may have a problem with Internet addiction among its young people, but harsh, military-style camps in which teens are dying aren’t the answer.
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