China's ministry of health is set to recognise net addiction as a "clinical disease" and will next year formally define the condition, the Telegraph reports.
The ministry classifies an addict as someone who spends "at least six hours" a day glued to the internet, and who suffers symptoms such as "irritation, difficulty in concentration or sleeping, mental or physical distress and a yearning to get back online".
Psychologists at Beijing's Military General Hospital probed 1,300 "problematic" net junkies in formulating their definition - a small percentage of the estimated ten per cent of under-18 web users hooked, representing a total of four million teens.
The main problem is the lure of online gaming, with Asia now boasting "enormous salons in which hundreds of users play games for several days in a row". The Chinese have attempted to control the worst excesses by requiring gamers to register their name and ID number while simply cutting off the game after a maximum of five hours online.
Tao Ran, an expert at the Military General Hospital, said the problem would now be addressed in hospital-based "special psychiatric units". Tao, whose speciality is treating heroin addicts, already runs a Beijing "Boot Camp" offering "counselling, military discipline, hypnosis and mild electro-shock therapy" to get inmates back on the straight and narrow.
He said: "Eighty per cent of addicts can be cured with treatment, which usually lasts about three months." He did not specify exactly how internet addicts would be detoxed, the Telegraph notes.
In June this year, US psychiatrist Dr Jerald Block also defined net addiction as a clinical disorder with some victims so hopelessly hooked they "required medication or even hospital treatment to curb the time they spent on the web".
Writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, he described the four main symptoms thus: victims "forget to eat and sleep"; they crave more advanced tech and more time online as they're numbed by "resistance" to the kicks they get from their current system; prising them away from their computer results in "genuine withdrawal symptoms"; and they begin to become more argumentative, more fatigued, more isolated from society, and perform worse in tests.
Block elaborated: "The relationship is with the computer. It becomes a significant other to them. They exhaust emotions that they could experience in the real world on the computer through any number of mechanisms: emailing, gaming, porn."
China, though, has specific conditions which may be feeding the rise in addiction. Gao Wenbin of the psychology institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the country's youths were "finding refuge online from the pressures of being only children". He said: "Most children in China are the only ones in their families. They are told only to study hard, but no one really cares about their needs." ®