The Internet is arguably one of the most impactful and important inventions well, ever. It has the ability to inform millions, to entertain, to escape into an infinite world of incalculable possibilities, and to bring you this blog to read, but is it also addictive and detrimental? China has been the first country to classify Internet addiction (网络成瘾, wǎngluò chéngyǐn) as an official disorder, and even to have registered it as a condition with the World Health Organization. In addition, it is also the first to create a diagnostic manual for Internet addiction, and has since influenced the rest of the world to look more closely at this growing concern.
According to the Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) diagnostic manual, Internet addiction is divided into five categories: addiction to online games (网络游戏 wǎngluò yóuxì), pornography, social networking, Internet information and Internet shopping. Adolescent to young adult males make up the largest demographic of both Internet users Internet addiction and online gaming is their method of choice. Females are the next largest group of addicts, using online chatting as the tool. However, their numbers fall far short of the young males that are glued to the online gaming world.
China’s new categorization has added fuel to the fire of this argument all over the world. So much so that Internet addiction is being considered for addition to the the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disease (DSMV): it is due for publication by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in May of 2013.
Though China is the first to take these steps, a massing amount of evidence shows that Internet addiction is like and unlike any other form of addiction. China has over 513 million netizens (网民, wǎngmín) according to data from the China Internet Information Center in January of 2012. The youth of China are the most plugged-in, an alarming statistics shows that 42% report feeling addicted to the Internet, according to Dr. Tao, who set up China’s first Internet addiction clinic at the Military General Hospital in Beijing. Tao purports that an Internet addict spends, on average, 6.13 hours (outside of work and school work) online a day. This is considerably higher than the seventeen percent of 13 to 17-year-olds that the China Communist Youth League report as being addicted to the Internet, in 2007. It ultimately raises the question “What is wrong with the spending time on the Internet?”
For starters, the Beijing Public Security Bureau statistics indicate that 76 percent of juvenile crimes were committed by Internet addicts. This indicates a correlation with findings from a study done by Xiangya Hospital of Central South University that “suggests that adolescents with Internet addiction exhibit more impulsivity than controls and have various co-morbid psychiatric disorders, which could be associated with the psychopathology of Internet addiction.”
In addition a study done at the Xidian University in China concluded that “long-term Internet addiction would result in brain structural [sic] alterations, which probably contributed to chronic dysfunction in subjects with IAD.” Another study done on cooperation with University Notre Dame Australia and Sun Yat-Sun University China found that college students who were addicted to the Internet were five times more likely to harm themselves.
A study by professor Tao Hongkai from Huanzhong Normal University claims that 90 percent of flunk-outs from thirteen different Chinese colleges were Internet addicts. He had previously been quoted as saying, “teenagers will lose 10 percent of their IQ after three years of online game addiction, rendering them “abnormal.”” While he has an extreme views on the subject, the correlations between abnormal behavior and Internet addiction cannot be ignored.
There is a clear sedentary lifestyle that comes with being online for over six hours a day. In a study published by the Journal of Internet Medical Research, it was discovered that those who spent the most time on a computer were 1.5 times more likely to be overweight and 2.5 more likely to be obese than those who did not use a computer at all. Even those adult computer users who had high levels of physical activity were 1.86 times more likely to be overweight or obese than people who spent no time on computers (according to healthcentral.com).
The mixed gender study from the University of Hong Kong that found that heavy Internet users were least likely to eat healthy, exercise, or even have adequate hygiene. Even though they were most likely to develop health risks, heavier set people were the least likely to seek out medical attention. Overweight and obese Internet users also had less romantic relationships and even friendships. Along with these problems heavier people were are more likely to develop diabetes and heart conditions.
This is more than just statistics: People’s Daily reported a story of a 14-year-old boy who died after a four story fall, that the parents say was due to hallucinations brought on by his obsession with the popular video game Legend and would often come home as late as 2 a.m. and then leave for the Internet bar again around 5 a.m. Another similar story from U.K.-based The Guardian tells of a Chinese teenager from Tianjin, who was addicted to the popular online game World of War Craft (WOW), and tried to re-enact an event from the game, ending in a plummeting fall from his building, to his death. Another sad story from China Daily in 2004, tells of a 13-year-old boy, who committed suicide after playing 36 hours of WOW by jumping from his parents 24th floor apartment. The parents sued Blizzard, the developer of WOW, for not warning of the dangers of the game. It is clear from these stories that China is facing a problem of addiction.
All addictions have root causes: some are genetically predisposed and others are completely environmental. Tao says that family ranks first. Violent households and homes where there are weak relationships within the family are far more likely to lead children towards the solace of the online world. Tao emphasizes the importance of a strong paternal role in a youths life. He said that among the Internet addiction sufferers received by the juvenile psychological hospital ward, the first Internet addiction treatment center in China founded in 2005, 95 percent were boys who lacked a loving father.
Tao said adults could also suffer from addiction. In an interview with Beijing Review he said, “Under heavy pressure in life or work, some adults hope to escape reality or release their emotions in cyberspace.” Just the same as alcohol, drugs, or gambling, the Internet can be used as more than just casual but, as an escape from an undesired reality. Internet addiction is symptomatic of a larger problem in the non-virtual world: one that must be addressed for the health of the individual and the risk that unchecked addiction can pose to culture, as a whole.
Click here for part II.