South Korea Facing Digital Addiction Crisis

By Victoria Kim 08/16/19

Almost 10 million people in South Korea are at serious risk of digital addiction.

woman in South Korea with digital addiction
ID 109684814 © Iurii Kuzo |

Experts say that South Korea is facing a public health crisis, with nearly 20% of the population (almost 10 million people) at serious risk of Internet addiction, NPR reports. And they say the United States could be in trouble, too, if we are not proactive.

NPR focused on problematic Internet usage in South Korea, but countries like Japan, Switzerland and Brazil are also contending with rising numbers of internet “addicts.”

In May, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), defining the condition as having impaired control over gaming, giving increasing priority to gaming over other activities, and doing so despite the negative consequences.

Firsthand Account

NPR interviewed Sungwon Roh, a psychiatrist at Hanyang University in Seoul, who sees firsthand the effects of gaming or Internet use disorder in South Korea.

“Here I see dramatic cases of both adolescents and adults come to seek professional help because they started to have serious problems in their health, relationships with their family or studies at school from game addiction,” said Roh. “Some students will refuse to go to school or even inflict physical force on their parents.”

Facilities like the National Center for Youth Internet Addiction Treatment give South Koreans, many of them teenagers, a place to separate from electronic devices and engage in other activities like board games, art class and volunteering.

“We help students find a new hobby. Students who are overly dependent on Internet and smartphones will be doing only that [using their phones] when they have extra time. So, we are showing them many other options so they can spend their free time in a healthier way,” said Yong-chool Shim, director of the National Center.

Treatment Programs

Teenagers who arrive at the National Center for Youth Internet Addiction Treatment go device-free from the day they arrive and for the remainder of the 2-4 week program.

“My hands get shaky, I can’t concentrate. When I go back to the dormitory to get some rest, I keep thinking of Facebook,” said one 14-year-old girl at the National Center.

Another girl, 16, had better luck with digital detox. At first she told NPR, “I’ve had my phone since my first year in elementary school, I’ve never been without it since. So I was worried.” But five days in, she said she was feeling more comfortable being without her phone.

Shim says the problem in South Korea is only growing, and more facilities are opening to accommodate the demand.

“The percentage of teenagers dependent on Internet and smartphones is actually increasing,” said Shim. “So, our organization is expanding and trying to get ready to accept more students.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr