Can the Internet kill you? - (10/8/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Now that more prescriptions were coming over the Internet, the pharmacist was spending more time at the computer. On the plus side, the computerized orders are easier to read. Less time is spent phoning doctors’ offices for a handwriting translation. On the downside, the pharmacist’s eyes were sore and red by day’s end. Nonetheless, even into the evening, the pharmacist found himself on his iPhone reading the news, communicating with friends and family, and playing games.   

You would have to be living on one of Saturn’s 82 moons not to realize that digital devices are ubiquitous. News flash! Americans are spending more time online. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey revealed that over 1 in 4 American adults are always online, up from 1 in 5 Americans in 2015. Overall, 81% of Americans go online at least once daily. The Internet population will continue to soar as more people rely on their devices for personal communications, info seeking, and (wink, wink) entertainment. 

However, problems exist when people use their devices incessantly. These problems can be both mental and physical. Internet Use Disorder (IUD) is now an actual diagnosis, says the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The APA defines IUD as a preoccupation with Internet gaming with unsuccessful attempts to control gaming use. The person uses such gaming to escape from reality due to unhappiness with life. As with alcoholism, the IUD patient deceives family, friends, and therapists about the amount of gaming and even has withdrawal symptoms if the gaming source is removed. As with any substance abuse disorder, one builds up a tolerance and spends increasing amounts of time engaged in gaming. Quality of life erodes, as well. Jobs, relationships, and education or occupation career opportunities are lost or jeopardized because of the obsession with gaming. Early death can follow.

Yet, people love their social media. Many of us are glued to our Twitter and Facebook feeds 24/7. Aside from sharing recipes or baby pictures, vicious political arguments, cyberbullying, and sexting are commonplace. Such activities do not always bode well for the user and recipient. Recent studies have demonstrated that social media use can result in depression, particularly among younger people. When left untreated, depression can result in suicide. Parents and teachers should intervene if a young person’s personality suddenly changes, possibly because of unhealthy social media use. 

From a physical standpoint, Internet overuse can undermine one’s health. A 2017 study of children and adolescents suggests that screen media exposure leads to obesity through binge eating as well as exposure to ads for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, and beverages. Reduced sleep duration can also negatively affect schoolwork and job performance. For the digital couch potato, more hours at the screen means less time exercising. Heart disease and hypertension are now seen even in the young. 

As did radio and television, the Internet has brought us to places we would never have visited. The pharmacist recalls sitting in his bedroom in high school using the family’s Encyclopedia Britannica to write a one-dimensional paper on the topography of Africa. With the Internet, research is richer, video and audio enhance the written word, and the overall experience is more liberating.  

From a social media standpoint, yes, you can meet people online. So, instead of going through the mating ritual, the Internet can let you know if your prospective suitor is a jerk in about 2 minutes instead of 3 weeks of disappointing face-to-face dinner dates. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Read more at


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