According to a recent government-funded study in Japan, 518,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18 are "pathologically" addicted to the Internet. The study, conducted by Nihon University, surveyed 100,000 students, finding 8.1 percent to be in a suspected state of Internet addiction.
Of those who demonstrated symptoms of Internet addiction -- including increasing absorption in and obsession with online activities at all hours of the day; symptoms of depression; decreasing school performance; and deep vein thrombosis -- 23 percent also had trouble sleeping, and 15 percent woke often in the night.
To combat this, Japan's Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry is planning further research, as well as Internet-free camps that will separate children from their computers, smartphones, and portable gaming consoles.
These camps, which the government plans to implement in the next fiscal year, will focus on outdoor activity, as well as group activities to emphasize the value of face-to-face communication.
Additionally, the children will attend counseling sessions with psychiatrists and clinical psychotherapists to help the ministry identify the causes of Internet addiction.
Internet addiction has five key criteria, according to Mark D. Griffiths, a professor of psychology at the UK's Nottingham Trent University who wrote the book "Internet addiction: Does it really exist?":
- Salience: the Internet becomes the most important activity in the person's life, affecting feelings, behavior, and thoughts.
- Mood modification: the person receives an emotional "buzz" from using the Internet.
- Tolerance: the person becomes acclimatized, requiring increasing amounts of Internet time to get that "buzz."
- Withdrawal symptoms: abruptly ceasing Internet activity can cause the person emotional or physical distress.
- Relapse: the addict tends to fall back into the same behavior very easily, even after years of abstinence or control.
Still, Internet addiction remains a little-understood (though much studied and debated) phenomenon. Japan's program could help not just its own citizens, but also Internet addicts around the world by uncovering its root causes and examining ways to treat it.