China’s “Internet Addict” Boot Camps

Internet addiction, and online gaming in particular, has really gotten out of control in China. There are now some 24 million “Internet addicts” in a country where nearly 700 million use the Internet. Stories of those who shut themselves off in their rooms or at Internet cafes for marathon gaming sessions, not even stopping to eat or sleep, are quite common to see and hear. And then there are the parents, somehow dismayed by this reality despite the fact that they cultivated these habits in the first place by allowing their kids to go online with regularity from extremely young ages.

So it would almost appear that they—along with society in general—place blame on the Internet itself, having reached their wits end on how to stop this growing “scourge.” But it’s not all bad news, as salvation has arrived. Internet addict boot camps have now sprung up all over the country, and are reaping quite the profit for their services to help cure this clinical disorder.


There are now a reported 300+ of these boot camps in China. Why the term “boot camp” you ask? Because the centers are known for implementing military-style exercise and discipline as well as having extremely spartan living quarters. This tough love approach to treatment is usually supplemented with brain scans, therapy, and daily medications to boot. The scans are done to measure brain activity because the belief is that this addictive behavior results in problems in brain function similar to those found resulting from heroin use. Based on psychiatric evaluations, a large percentage of the teens at these centers are diagnosed with depression as well as prone to violence. In cases such as this, medications are prescribed and their intake is closely monitored.

One well-known camp near Beijing is operated by Tao Ran, a psychiatrist and army colonel, and reports a 75% success rate in weaning junkies off of their electronic heroin. The center admits 70 patients at a time, the vast majority of whom are male teens. The average stay is 3–6 months, while other staying for longer durations if they find that they are having a particularly hard time controlling their addiction. Patients like these often return for another stint in rehab after failing to resist the temptation of non-stop gaming once back home.

While nobody is allowed to use any electronic devices, many patients are hooked up to some. Apart from electroencephalogram (EEG) scans and therapy, patients follow a regimen of exercise and simple daily routines. They also participate in structured face-to-face activities with their peers, as many of them lack fundamental social skills.

In extreme cases, the dysfunction is the result of years of practically living in a virtual world, especially as these kids skip school or drop out altogether. Most every waking moment is spent online, sleeping only when completely exhausted and frequently skipping meals. In some instances, gaming addicts find themselves passing out at Internet cafes due to exhaustion and dehydration. There have been several cases (not just in China but around East Asia also) where gamers have even keeled over dead after days spent glued to the computer screen.

As parents of teen gamers stand by mortified, the knee-jerk reaction is to send their kids off as soon as possible to one of these boot camps. It is not uncommon to even resort to drugging their kids, as (unsurprisingly) many will fight tooth and nail against being sent away.

A stay at one of these camps does not come cheap. One parent, a construction worker, has spent approximately 170,000 Chinese yuan (US$27,000) on his son’s repeated stays. This is an unbelievable sum for the average family. Tao Ran’s camp runs an average of US$1,500 per patient, and that does not include meals, medication, or medical tests.

Some personal accountability seems in order for the parents of these Internet addicts. Perhaps don’t give your little emperors unsupervised access to the Internet at such a young age and then be surprised when act this way in their teens.

For an inside look at one of these boot camps, check out this brief documentary by The New York Times.

H/T: The Telegraph