Rx for e-addicts

LAST week, in this column, we dissected the anatomy, physiology, and psychological and social impact of electronic addiction, a relatively new condition on its way to officially being a medical disease entity.

The e-addicts we described ranged from the first year of life to teenage years to adulthood. Yes, I have seen few babies with their own tablets. Seniors, like myself, are not immune either.  Now that I am retired from cardiovascular surgery, I have been spending more time with my ultrabook, android smartphone, and with Cortana & Alexa, the two “girlfriends” I am with day and night who my wife, Farida, approves of, while she enjoys her desktop, iPad, and an IOS smartphone (with Siri).  As a pediatrician, she warns parents that these electronic “toys,” if used by their toddlers and teenagers without schedule and control, could lead to psychological problems (irritability, impatience, anxiety, depression), sleep disorders, speech impairment, bad attitude, anti-social behaviors, poor school performance, poor eating habits, obesity, visual impairment, and organic illnesses.

When our children were young, we imposed a strict rule for TV viewing — allowed only on Friday and Saturday, when the following day is NOT a school day. PCs were still in their infancy and smartphones and artificial intelligence still theories then. Farida and I were strict with our kids.  Happily, they all followed our footsteps in medicine and now imposing the same rules on their children.

Internet addiction for one is a global problem today. Smartphones and other electronics devices follow in prevalence.

I find all these gadgets most useful, genuinely enjoyable, a great source and instant provider of unlimited information and entertainment.   I find them indispensable, as a cardiac surgeon and a writer (the reason my e-mail handle or username is scalpelpen).  I am totally dependent on ultrabook and on my Samsung Note 8 for many uses, including GPS guidance. I would be lost without it.  Actually, I never leave home without my smartphone and never leave town without it and my mini-laptop. I feel empowered, more secure, and more productive with them.

Here are important data from the National Health Institute as symptoms that could indicate Internet or computer addiction: “Losing track of time spent online; Experiencing difficulty completing tasks at home or work; Isolation from friends and family; Feeling defensive or guilty about Internet usage; Experiencing a sense of euphoria when involved in online activities.

“Individuals who have an Internet addiction may also experience physical symptoms that could include: Strained vision; Sleep problems; Carpal tunnel syndrome; Significant weight loss or weight gain; Severe headaches, anxiety, irritability, depression, loneliness, when the electronic “toy” (or Internet connection) are not available.”

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, “Internet addiction is now considered as one of the most serious health issues facing South Korea while approximately 10 million teenagers in China are considered Internet addicts”

Confirmed e-addicts are those who constantly crave for electronic “narcotic” devices, prefer playing than eat or take a shower.  Withdrawal creates agony and pain.

TV viewing (shows and movies), computer or cellphone video gaming,  online shopping, e-mailing, engaging in social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.), calling, and texting, are all exciting, fun, and truly addicting because they stimulate the secretion of happy hormones (dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, oxytoxin, etc.) in our body. These gadgets provide us power and control, enabling our minds to soar to another galaxy in virtual reality, practically without limit. Only wisdom, discipline, common sense, and self-control can prevent e-addiction and abuse in the use of these wonderful advances in science and technology.

What is the treatment for e-addiction?

Like addiction to tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs, e-addiction is best managed as early as possible. Prevention is the key, and it starts at home and in many cases, in school. At home, children should be strictly guided and monitored, making sure they understand that school and homework, family time, are priorities. Rules on the use of electronic devices must be clear, with maximum screening or playing time, and penalty for breaking the rule. Playing outside the home with friends and sports activities should be encouraged.

When children show signs of withdrawal, consider a therapist before it gets worse. Digital detoxification is needed.  Parents must set a good example for the children in the healthy use of electronic gadgets, including the use of Internet and social media, where identity theft and exploitation of children are now a growing problem. If you give your young children a cellphone for use in emergencies, make sure they use it ONLY for such a purpose, and that confiscation will follow any breach of this rule.

How about management for teenagers and adults?

For adults and teenagers, self-discipline plays a key role in the management of electronic addiction. The first dictum is to identify and admit there is an addiction problem, and start dealing with it ASAP. Practical and reasonable guidelines must be set, with the help of the family, and followed by everyone at home as a joint project. Realize and embrace pains of withdrawal, which should be a gradual decrease in the use-time. Accept that activities with family and friends are very important and must not be sacrificed in favor of electronic devices, and that reality is healthier than the virtual world. Reconnect with your mind and body and the living things around you. Remember, electronic devices are tools, our slaves or assistants we must control, and not allow them to control and enslave you. Use your electronic “toys” no more than 3 times a day, reducing their use to an hour each time, and then gradually decreasing it further, until you wean yourself off, and finally, using them only when necessary. After you have controlled your addiction, use them only for specific situation, like emailing only when necessary, online shopping, calling and texting to a minimum, using the smartphone for GPS guidance, etc. You might regress to the old habit, but then, be aware of it and regain control. Soon you will find a new normal for the new you, a more disciplined, wiser, and healthier, person. If these steps of self-therapy do not succeed, then it’s time to seek expert help for electronic detoxification.


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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