What do you do with a teenager that spends 10 hours a day playing online games. What if a teenager is unable to pull herself away from her Facebook account? The Chinese government is taking this ramped up usage of the Internet seriously, according to an article in the June 26, 2009 edition of Science (available online only to subscribers).
The Science article focuses on treatment efforts by the General Hospital of Beijing’s Addiction Medicine Center (AMC). The article quotes Tao Ran, a Chinese psychiatrist, who estimates that 5 million of the country’s 300 million Internet users are “Internet addicts,” and that adolescents are especially vulnerable. The concern is that excessive use of the Internet deprives people of valuable real life social interactions. Of the more than 3,000 cases documented by AMC, the patients were spending an average of nine hours per day using the Internet.
The issue of “Internet addiction” is also being considered by American psychiatrists. The article notes a lively ongoing discussion as to whether “Internet addiction” should be included as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) planned for release in 2012.
Tao indicates that female patients are most often hooked on chat rooms, while male patients are addicted to online games. He notes that when the patients are involuntarily admitted for treatment, almost all of them suffer serious withdrawal symptoms, including anger, irritation and restlessness. AMC considers family therapy to be a central part of the treatment,
although other treatments include “behavioral training, drug therapy for patients with mental symptoms, dancing and sports, reading, karaoke and elements of the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
AMC is also suggesting a cause for Internet addiction:
Patients tend to have parents who are strict authoritarians or demand perfection, or come from single-parent households or homes in which the parents are frequently fighting.