Why That Netflix Addiction May Be Bad For Your Health

Is TV as bad as other addictive behaviors?

My fellow TV binge-watchers:

I come to you today as a woman knee-deep in season 5 of "Cheers," while desperately awaiting the release of season 3 of "House of Cards" on Netflix on February 27. 

Like you, I know all too well how easy it is to continue playing the next episode, one after another. It's easy to justify watching continually while doing something productive like folding laundry or washing dishes, but let's be honest: A lot of it happens while mindless vegging out until 3 a.m… on a Tuesday. 

Sure, we might pay dearly for the lack of sleep the next day, but at least we got to finish another season of "The Wire," right?

Unfortunately, my comrades of the couch, we need to face reality: binge-watching shows is not good for us. I know, I know. Watching TV for a few days hours at a time seems like it's hardly the worst thing a human could do. Sure, there are health risks from not being active and all the extra calories that come along with mindless eating, but it isn't just our waistlines in question.

A new study from the University of Texas at Austin has revealed that binge-watching television is linked to depression and feelings of loneliness.

"Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way," research leader Yoon Hi Sung said in a press release

"Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously. Our research is a step toward exploring binge-watching as an important media and social phenomenon."

Sung will present the study alongside fellow researchers Eun Yeon Kang and Wei-Na Lee in May at the 65th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

How did they arrive at such a conclusion? The researchers surveyed over 300 adults, ranging in age from 18-29. They answered questions pertaining to feelings of loneliness and depression, and then compared those answers to the responses about TV habits, including the tendency of binge-watching. 

As it turns out, those who felt the most depressed also had the highest tendency to binge-watch TV shows. The researchers believe that just like other compulsive activities, such as binge-drinking or binge-eating, watching television for extended amounts of time is an activity used to hide from negative feelings, rather than addressing them. It also hints at an inability to regulate self-control, because important things such as sleep or personal relationships are sacrificed in order to watch yet another episode of "Mad Men."

However, it's important to keep in mind that this study demonstrated correlation, not causation. It doesn't necessarily mean that watching a lot of TV will make us depressed. Rather, binge-watching can be looked at more like a potential symptom of deeper problems that should be addressed.

If this news is hitting you a little close to home, please don't use TV to hide. Please see a qualified mental health professional in order to get the actual help you need.

Even if feelings of loneliness or depression don't particularly apply to you, there is something to be said for us setting down the remote and backing away every once in a while in favor of interaction with actual real people. I know, it sounds tough, but I think we can do it.

Truly yours,

Lisa