Apr 30, 2008

Internet addiction problem in Asia

After a series of 10 cardiopulmonary-related deaths in Internet cafés and a game-related murde, South Korea considers Internet addiction one of its most serious public health issues.

Using data from 2006, the South Korean government estimates that approximately 210,000 South Korean children (ages 6–19) are afflicted and require treatment. About 80% of those needing treatment may need psychotropic medications, and perhaps 20% to 24% require hospitalization.

Since the average South Korean high school student spends about 23 hours each week gaming, another 1.2 million are believed to be at risk for addiction and to require basic counseling.

In particular, therapists worry about the increasing number of individuals dropping out from school or work to spend time on computers.

As of June 2007, South Korea has trained 1,043 counselors in the treatment of Internet addiction and enlisted over 190 hospitals and treatment centers. Preventive measures are now being introduced into schools.

China is also greatly concerned about the disorder. The Director of Addiction Medicine at Beijing Military Region Central Hospital reported 10 million Chinese adolescent Internet users meet Internet addiction diagnostic criteria.

As a result, in 2007 China began restricting computer game use; current laws now discourage more than 3 hours of daily game use.

In the United States, accurate estimates of the prevalence of the disorder are lacking. Unlike in Asia, where Internet cafés are frequently used, in the United States games and virtual sex are accessed from the home.

Attempts to measure the phenomenon are clouded by shame, denial, and minimization.

To face this growing situation, society have to discuss more about new habits related to new technologies use.

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Apr 16, 2008

Time to recognize Web addiction as illness

Compulsive emailing and text messaging could soon become classified an official brain illness.

An editorial in the past month's issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry says Internet addiction (including "excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations and email/text messaging") is a common compulsive-impulsive disorder that should be added to psychiatry's official guidebook of mental disorders.

Like other addicts, users experience cravings, urges, withdrawal and tolerance, requiring more and better equipment and software, or more and more hours online, according to Jerald Block, a psychiatrist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

Block says people can lose all track of time or neglect "basic drives," like eating or sleeping.

Block says about 86 per cent of Internet addicts have some other form of mental illness, but that unless a therapist is looking for it, Internet addiction is likely to be missed.

He argues the phenomenon warrants being included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychiatry's official dictionary of mental illnesses. The next edition, DSM-V, is due out in 2012. A draft is expected to be available for public comment next year.

But some say the research into Internet addiction is in its infancy and wonder how doctors decide when computer use crosses the line from the normal, to pathological.

British psychiatrists, reporting last year in the journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, say a "significant minority" - some estimate between five and 10 per cent of online users - are addicted to the Internet, and that while early research suggests most are highly educated, highly introverted males, more recent studies suggest the bulk of the problem is occurring among middle-aged women on home computers.

Some use computers like they would drugs or alcohol as a way to escape reality, the researchers say. Addicts may be addicted to everything from the sheer act of typing, to chat rooms, online shopping or three-dimensional, multiplayer games users have described as "heroinware."

According to addiction therapist John Macdonald, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, computer use becomes problematic when the behaviour starts affecting people's lives.

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