CHINA> National
Internet addiction not just 'bad habit'
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-11-10 08:10

Feeling tense and angry because you cannot get online?

Time to seek medical help as Internet addiction is now considered a clinical disorder rather than a bad habit, a new Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) diagnostic manual approved over the weekend by psychologists has shown.

Lingering online for more than six hours a day instead of working or studying and having adverse reactions from not being able to get online have been identified as two major symptoms of IAD.

Based on the report, sufferers usually engage in five main activities: Online gaming, Net pornography, excessive involvement in virtual social networking, too much Internet shopping and general cyber-surfing.

The manual would be the first of its kind in the world if the Ministry of Health officially approves it, said Tao Ran, a leading medical professional on addiction in China who also headed the drafting of the manual.

The ministry is highly likely to give the manual the green light next year, Tao said.

"If so, China will be the first country to recognize IAD as a clinical disease, like gambling or alcohol addiction," he told China Daily yesterday.

The manual could also influence how Western countries view IAD, he said.

The American Psychiatric Association is now debating whether to include IAD in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the profession's primary resource of categorizing and diagnosing mental illnesses, due for publication in 2010, US media reported.

China has taken such a lead in the study of the affliction because of its rise in the country, Tao said.

About 10 percent of the country's 40 million underage Net users are addicted to the Web, a report released in August by the National People's Congress Standing Committee showed.

Research conducted by Internet media company InterActiveCorp last year also showed that 42 percent of Chinese youngsters polled felt "addicted" to the Web, while only 18 percents of Americans were said to have felt the same way.

The dependence on the virtual world has also reportedly caused real-life problems. Tao quoted figures from the Beijing public security bureau as saying that 76 percent of juvenile crime in the city is somehow Internet-related.

"We have more problems than the Western countries do in this area," Tao said.

But he also said IAD is a curable disease. Since 2005, the Military General Hospital of Beijing PLA, which Tao works for, has received more than 3,000 Internet addicts. Up to 80 percent of them managed to rid themselves of the problem after three to six months of treatment, he said.

The treatment is similar to those for other addictions: Cutting off patients' connection with the Web before offering them psychological counseling and complementing that with group interactive activities to teach patients how to socialize in real society.

Gao Wenbin, a researcher with the psychology institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the lack of family care, companions and real-life games are major reasons behind the rising number of young Net addicts in the country.

"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," Gao said.