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China: Beijing Opens Clinic To Help Internet Addicts

Quitting can be hard The Internet has become a part of life for a growing number of people around the world. But many people don't realize that hours spent online could be a symptom of Internet addiction. The disorder is affecting a growing number of people, mainly children and teenagers, who are spending increasing amounts of time playing games and chatting on the web. In an effort to tackle this problem, China has now opened its first clinic to help treat Internet addicts.

Prague, 1 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Many working people spend hours every day in front of a screen. But that’s not necessarily a sign of compulsive and out-of-control behavior.

The problem occurs when someone neglects his aspects of his regular life -- such as working, eating, or relationships with friends and family -- to get online.

Qu Shen, an 18-year-old student from Henan Province in eastern central China, is in such a situation. He is among 10 young Chinese who are currently being treated at the new Beijing Military Clinic Addiction Treatment Center.

"Internet chatting and computer games to me are the solution to life. I simply couldn't tear myself away from it because I didn't want to leave my world. To put it in a horrifying way, I had no confidence left for the real world,” Qu said.

While perhaps extreme, Qu’s lifestyle is similar to the existence of many of the estimated 4-5 million Chinese addicted to the web.

Most of them are teenagers who can't tear themselves away from computer games and Internet chat rooms. The problem becomes particularly acute during summer vacation when they can spend their entire day in Internet cafes.

The director of the new clinic in Beijing, Dr. Tao Ran, told Reuters that part of his job is to search for the psychological problem that has led to a patient's addiction.

"We do all kinds of treatment. One big part is using [therapeutic] drugs. We also do psychological consulting and let the kids play sports. So it's a comprehensive way of treating patients. Most of the time this computer addiction is a psychological issue. So we figure out what kind of problem it is and use the right way to deal with it,” Ran said.

Addiction to online games is believed to be sweeping the globe. It has led to many public and private attempts around the world to deal with the problem.

The Thai government imposed a curfew in 2003, blocking game servers between the hours of 10 at night and 6 in the morning.

In the United States, the Center for Online Addiction, a private clinic, has specialized in cyber-disorders since 1995. A one-hour session of telephone and chat room counseling costs 95 dollars.

The German social security services in 2003 opened Europe's first school for teenage computer addicts, where children are taught how to make friends, exercise, and play games.
"Internet chatting and computer games to me are the solution to life. I simply couldn't tear myself away from it because I didn't want to leave my world."

At the addiction center in Beijing, patients stay for a maximum of two weeks, after which they are supposed to walk out of the hospital not thinking about the Internet at all.

Quite a change for 20-year-old Zhao, who admitted using computer games for six hours a day to escape the boredom of everyday life.

"I can find myself again in computer games. In real life, you are nothing but a small potato. But in computer games, you can be a superman. I want to be a superman, so I have to play, play and play. They have this upgrading system. You practice as do a lot of other people. If you want to win, then you have to devote a lot more time to it,” Zhao said.

Zhao, who was studying computer design at a college in Denmark, has come back to China to get treatment at the Beijing center.

Treatment there costs $50 a day plus meals -- a huge amount of money for ordinary Chinese families.

However, with Internet use on the rise, the center is planning to expand its services to treat the growing numbers of Internet addicts.