When we consider addiction it is easy to forget that anything and everything can be addictive in the right circumstances for certain people.
Some addictions are likely to be overshadowed by headline grabbing addictions such as the opioid epidemic which the US is currently battling with. While it might not be possible to overdose on broadband, an addiction to the internet can have very devastating consequences on an individual’s life.
In China, a growing number of parents are sending their internet craving children to questionable “internet addiction boot camps”. Last year in August the Internet Treatment Addiction Center in Linyi, China was reportedly using electroshock treatment on hundreds of their teenage patients, despite the fact that the Ministry of Health banned this treatment seven years ago.
This brutal approach among these boot camps has resulted in a number of tragic and deadly outcomes. For example, a teenage boy was recently rushed to hospital where he later died after only attending the boot camp for 48 hours. The 18-year-old had allegedly sustained multiple injuries, and the centre’s director and staff members have been held by police, according to reports. Moreover, this is not the first time a boot camp has resulted in death.
In September, Chen Xinran, a 16 year-old girl who had escaped a treatment center in the city of Jinan, brutally murdered her mother in revenge for the abuses she had suffered at the hands of the institute’s administrators. In spite of the many cases coming from China, it appears the issue of internet addiction is not constrained by borders, as many other countries have the a very similar problem.
Evidence suggest that this type of dependence on our connection to the internet occurs across many countries, particularly affecting young people. Among university students in Spain, one in ten met criteria for problematic Internet use. Elsewhere in Europe we can see similar results. In a study with Finnish teens, 14% of subjects were classified as normal users, 61% were mild over-users, and 24% were moderate or serious over-users.
An article by The Guardian recently reported on the lives of young men at an internet rehab clinic in the US called reSTART Life.
“I was playing video games 14 or 15 hours a day, I had Netflix on a loop in the background, and any time there was the tiniest break in any of that, I would be playing a game on my phone or sending lonely texts to ex-girlfriends,” reported one of the recovering addicts.
While programmes like these can help, they are simply not enough. reSTART launched a program for 13 to 17-year-olds this year, and there’s already a waiting list. This is disturbing considering roughly 1% to 13% of the US population has some level of internet addiction, and up to 20% of young adults are considered addicted.
Additionally, it is likely that private programmes like these will be unobtainable for those who are not financially well off, especially when you consider reSTART Life’s initial 45 day residential stage at the main campus costs $25,000.
This appears to be a global issue which has claimed many young victims in a discreet and subtle manner. Internet addiction is particularly complicated due to the fact that our use of internet is so deeply entrenched in our everyday lives. Drawing a line between addiction can be difficult, however, for some young people it is important to realise this is a real issue with very damaging effects.
This issue has become a very recognised problem in Asia where some countries such as South Korea and China are proposing the implementation of something they call Cinderella laws. The idea is to protect children from playing certain games after midnight. While that might be a good starting point, other areas of the world need to recognise the severity of this issue.
Programmes like reSTART Life can do fantastic things but clearly more needs to happen. Around the world young people are being affected by the Internet’s powerful hold and not enough is being done to help them, or to help them using the effective methods.