BEIJING - The number of young Chinese adults addicted to the Internet has risen to more than 33 million, according to a new study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Of the 236 million netizens on the mainland who are under 29 years old, almost 14 percent are hooked on the Web, a rise of roughly 1 percent since 2005, says the Annual Report (2009-2010) on Internet Usage by Young People in China.
Anyone who spends more than 90 minutes a day online - not including work time - are classed as addicts in the report, which was released on Friday.
"The affliction of modern technology, if not a disorder, has to be addressed to help promote healthy and scientific Internet usage among young people," said Shen Jie, a professor at the academy and the report's project director.
About 68 percent of young Internet addicts are hooked on video games, particularly role-playing games, said the report, which cites a survey by China Internet Network Information Center of almost 10,000 young Net users aged 6 to 29 and their families.
About half of the parents polled did not want their children to use the Internet as they feared it could affect their study, harm their health and expose them to porn.
Although views on the issue of Internet addiction are diverse, many say such fears are not irrational.
A study released by British scientists in February showed people who spend a lot of time online are more likely to show signs of depression.
However, most Chinese parents have no idea how children use the Internet, and therefore do not know how to prevent excessive use, said the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences report.
Some send their children to so-called rehabilitation centers, which are largely privately owned and employ military-like training, sports and counseling to help them drop the habit.
Today, more than 300 institutions nationwide offer Internet addiction treatment, experts estimated.
However, due to a lack of regulation, some even resort to bizarre measures such as electric shock therapy, said Lu Yulin, a professor at the China Youth University of Political Science.
In 2009, a Net-addicted teenager was beaten to death by counselors at a rehab camp in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, which sparked calls for better official scrutiny of such facilities.
"Many centers are only there to make money and are not certified, so parents should be wary," said Hao Xianghong, secretary-general of the China Youth Association for Network Development.
As yet, the Ministry of Health does not recognize Internet addiction as an illness. However, in March the ministry began a study into the issue, according to the annual report.
"It might be categorized as a mental disease in the future, probably as pathological Internet usage," said Shen Jiahong, director of the Guangzhou Baiyun Psychological Institute.
Internet addiction may not be recognized as a medical condition or psychiatric disorder but it is often a symptom of more serious underlying problems, such as attention deficit disorder and depression, said Kim Tae-hoon, a psychiatrist in South Korea.
The South Korean culture ministry announced a joint project with major gaming companies in April to implement a "late-night shutdown" on Web games popular among young users.
Access to three games will be blocked from midnight until 8 am to users under 18 when the program goes into effect later this year.