We all are guilty of using the internet a little too much, but for the Chinese, it seems to be a way too serious concern, as it declared internet addiction as a clinical disorder in 2008. “People who spend more than 6 hours on the internet for something other than work and study, are likely to be addicted to it”, says Tao Ran, Director of Daxing Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in Beijing.
The country has over 400 rehabilitation centres to ‘heal’ internet addicts, most of whom are juveniles. These rehab centres are military based boot-camps and follow a strict regime which many may perceive to be nothing less than torture.
Most of the patients at the rehab centres are young men who are addicted to playing multiplayer online games for hours at end, so much so that many have even worn diapers to avoid bathroom breaks. These addicts have lost interest in school and social activities. They claim that the ‘reality is too fake’ and seem to find happiness in the online world. They also become abusive and violent when denied access to the internet.
Many patients experience poor eyesight, back problems, eating disorders, and reduced brain activity. Their EEG reports show brain activity similar to drug addicts.
The Rehabilitation Process
Not many go to a rehabilitation centre by choice. Patients here are often tricked, or even drugged by their parents to get them admitted here. Patients undergo rigorous physical training, ethics classes, medication and even regular psychological examinations.
Many are also put in isolation booths for as long as 10 days. They are under constant surveillance even when they are asleep. A patient spends anything from three to six months at the rehabilitation centre. Parents are encouraged to be a part of the treatment, as their involvement is found to be the key to the method’s success.
The Daxing Internet Addiction Treatment Centre (IATC) claims to have a success rate of 75%. It has treated over 6000 patients since its inception in 2006. But, the true test of the camp’s success is when patients go back their school and work where they are in the company of the Internet. Many get over their addiction with the probable fear of the rehab- centres.
Even though China looks up to these centres as its hope to save its teens, from what they call ‘electronic heroin’, it comes with a price of £1000 (~96300 INR), which is twice of what the average urban Chinese worker can expect to earn.
It’s NOT A Pretty Place
The Daxing Internet Addiction Treatment Centre was the first rehab- centre that was established in the country. The newer centres not only follow the strict military regime but also engage in an electric shock therapy to cure the ‘disease’. Many patients have even died at these centres, as they were unable to cope with the rehabilitation process.
China is not the only country facing the high rise in internet addicts, but its treatment ways are truly a matter of controversy. Researchers worldwide condemn its idea of calling internet addiction as a mental disorder and say that the issue requires a lot more clinical research and experience.
The controversy over the Internet is slowing turning into a tug-of-war. With the rise in social media sites, online gaming and the need to be updated with the latest trends attracting users in large numbers, and issues of depression and anti-social behaviour concerning researchers and parents worldwide, the user and the so-called ‘patient’ seems to be stretched between the two.
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.