China to standardize treatment for Internet addiction

Children are playing video game. Photo: Jonathan Wong

China is formulating a set of treatment norms for adolescents who are pathologically addicted to the Internet, as physical and psychological health of students has been set as a key criterion for performance measurement of Chinese officials' political merits.

At a press conference recently held by the National Health Commission, Lu Lin, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and president of Peking University Sixth Hospital, expressed concerns over Chinese juveniles' obsession with the Internet.

"China is designing a set of treatment standards for Internet addiction, which I believe could be soon released," said Lu at the press conference.

An Internet addict is defined as one who has uncontrollable obsession with the Internet and normally has symptoms including academic, professional and social dysfunctions, according to a document released by the National Health Commission.

Someone who has had such symptoms for at least 12 months could be diagnosed with Internet addiction.

Chinese adolescents are more vulnerable to Internet addiction than their peers in other countries. The incidence of Internet addiction disorder in China stands at 10 percent, compared with the global average of 6 percent, said Lu, citing statistics.

Nearly half of the patients with Internet addiction disorder suffer from mental complications including anxiety, depression and attention deficit, according to the academician.

Due to the lack of treatment standards for Internet addiction disorder, doctors in China basically treat Internet addicts in the way they treat such psychological diseases.

In June, the World Health Organization released the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, which defines gaming disorder as a new mental health condition, which is one of the five addictive substances for Internet addiction.

Gaming disorder is defined as a pattern of digital or video gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative.

Lu said that about 85 percent of patients with Internet addiction disorder are bewitched with digital games, adding that academic pressure, family affairs and interpersonal relations could also play an important part in forcing people to excessive use of the Internet.

23.6 percent of Chinese youth play online video games at least four days a week, showing signs of Internet addiction, according to a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The study also showed that 41.3 percent of Internet addicts know that it is unhealthy to spend too much time online, but cannot control themselves.

Tao Ran, director of the Internet Addiction Clinic at the Beijing Military General Hospital, said that the inclusion of gaming disorder into the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases could pave the way for the future creation of treatment standards for Internet addiction.

Before the release of the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, many hospitals in China were reluctant to receive patients with gaming disorder due to a lack of diagnostic standards, according to Tao, who in 2008 led a revision of the country's clinical diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction, which listed Internet addiction as a kind of mental disease.

In August, the Chinese government halted approval of licenses for new digital and video games, which it said are detrimental to the physical and mental health of teenagers.

In the same month, the Ministry of Education and the National Health Commission urged parents to help reduce the time youngsters spend in playing digital games in a document, which sees reducing myopia rate of students as a major task of the local governments. The document apparently sets eyesight improvement as a key parameter for performance assessment of officials.

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