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Mei Schultz Mei Schultz

Teen Dies at Chinese Military-Style Internet Addiction Rehab

China is putting teens in military-style "treatment centers" for web addiction. But the conditions are extreme and sometimes life-threatening.

6 Substance

A teenager in a Chinese treatment center for Internet addiction has died and another has been seriously injured as the result of the center’s rigorous treatment methods, CCTV news reports. And it’s not the country’s first reported death at an Internet detox fatality: In 2009, Deng Senshan, 15, was beaten to death by a teacher at the Qihang Salvation Training Camp in Guanxi province.

An estimated 10% of Chinese teens are “addicted” to the Internet—about 33 million people. The government has taken various measures to tackle the problem, including putting teens into military-style detox centers which claim to “cure” them through therapy, medication, rigorous physical exercises and, of course, zero access to the web. Many of these facilities are privately run by people with minimal healthcare experience, and as such, conditions can be extreme—and at times life-threatening.

Representatives have defended the centers’ harsh methods by citing the severity of Internet addiction. The director of the Daxing Center outside of Beijing equated the Internet to hard drugs, calling it “electronic heroin.” And a parent of a teen in treatment told the New York Times earlier this year that the disorder had drastically altered her child’s personality: “He changed into another person. He became very cruel…we had to drug him with sleeping pills first to bring him here.”

A documentary called Web Junkie (trailer below) offers a glimpse into conditions within the centers, where the vast majority of patients have been checked in by their parents, against their will.

In 2008, China became the first country to name Internet Addiction as a psychological disorder. Symptoms include spending more than 6 hours a day online for non-work related reasons, and feeling irritable when denied access to the Web. Uh oh.