China Bans Electroshock Therapy for "Internet Addiction"

By Eliza Strickland | July 15, 2009 3:10 pm

Internet addictionThe Chinese government has banned the controversial use of electroconvulsive therapy, or shock therapy, to treat the controversial diagnosis of “Internet addiction.” With an estimated 300 million Internet users, China has been grappling with how to keep avid Web surfers from spending their whole lives online, and various clinics have sprung up, offering parents the chance to “cure” their children of the uncontrollable urge to blog or play online games [Telegraph]. But a recent scandal involving a psychiatric hospital in Shandong province that was using a “brain-waking” treatment of electric shocks has rallied public opinion against such clinics.

China’s Ministry of Health has now posted a notice on its Web site stating that there is no evidence that electric shock therapy is an effective treatment for Internet addiction. A hospital spokeswoman last week said “sensationalized” media reports had already led it to cease the shock treatment. The shocks were meant to cause subjects to associate a negative result with Internet use, according to the hospital [ComputerWorld]. People who were subjected to the treatment report that they were forced to apologize for and repudiate their Internet-using ways while receiving the shocks, which were also used as punishment for uncooperative behavior. In what might be an indication of the clinic’s effectiveness, its practices came to light when former patients went online to complain [The Wall Street Journal].

For 17-year-old Teng Fei, his ordeal started when “my mum saw the adverts on television. They demonised the internet and after watching them she believed I was sick and it was very serious.” … When Teng Fei’s mother told him that his dad had been taken ill the horrified teenager rushed straight to hospital. But it was a ruse and within hours he underwent the painful treatment. He was given ECT many more times in the following weeks [The Guardian]. The teenager’s father eventually became disillusioned with the program and withdrew his son, who says he still uses the Internet plenty–although he doesn’t believe that’s a problem.

There is considerable debate on whether Internet addiction is a real syndrome. In the United Kingdom, a recent survey of 1,300 intensive users came to the conclusion that addicts are those who spend at least six hours online a day and have shown at least one from a range of symptoms including a yearning to get back online, fear of social contact and difficulty concentrating or sleeping [The Guardian].

Related Content:
Discoblog: They Tried to Make Us Go to Web-Surfing Rehab but We Said LOL
80beats: China’s Internet Users Force Government to Back Down on Censorship
80beats: Some Kids Are “Pathologically” Addicted to Video Games, Study Finds

Image: flickr / mandiberg

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology
  • jphysics

    See, I think the problem is that even if you could be “cured” of this addiction, you’d still be required to go online and use email at work. Addicts are supposed to avoid the thing they are addicted to, and in our modern workplace, that’s just impossible.

  • Blue Fire

    There’s only one surefire cure for Internet Addiction, at least for kids anyway – instead of plugging in the “addict” to electroshock treatment, you just pull the plug on the Internet connection. Parents need to take charge of their children’s activities. There’s an off-switch on the TV too.

  • Grant H

    Ok… I feel like being all preachy with this… apologies in advance:

    Unregulated, uncensored and unfiltered internet is the single best thing this world has to date. To understand the reason why it’s so great, look at the reason why China regulates, censors and filters the internet and why most western countries are now doing the same.

    Understand that no amount of regulating, censoring or filtering will prevent people from accessing outlawed pornographic content. National internet filters are very easy to circumvent.

    The internet itself may or may not be addictive. Certain activities which are accessed using the internet are certainly addictive. Restricting the internet is not the answer nor is therapy behind closed doors, openly and plainly educating the people who use the internet is the answer. It seems to be a forgotten fact these days, but people are perfectly capable of being self responsible… they just need to know the facts.

  • http://link Coder31

    Likes consort with likes according to similarity metrics that are perhaps quite arbitrary. ,

  • The Mikeness

    I spend in excess of 12 hours a day on the Internet. 8-10 at my job as it requires me to be online, and an additional 2-4 hours at home. This of course drops on the weekend as I have things to do, but I do find that it changes my priorities, things like cleaning up after dinner get delayed.

    I do believe that it is possible to form an addiction to almost anything, but I highly doubt that an alleged addiction to the Internet is really just that. If someone finds themselves blogging all day, perhaps they’re addicted to socializing, to writing, or expressing themselves. If they find themselves playing games all the time, perhaps its games that they’re addicted to, not the Internet. Maybe they’re just addicted to being in front of the computer, using up electric energy, or staring at screens.

    My point is, addiction is never a simple issue, and you can’t just zap people willy nilly until they obey your wishes.

    Don’t taze me, bro.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar