The Symptoms and Risks of Television Addiction

How TV Binge-Watching Hurts Your Health

The Symptoms and Risks of Television Addiction

Streaming services are all the rage, bringing entertainment to millions of viewers when and where they want it, any time, day or night.

On-demand access to television, movies, and miniseries provides viewers with a sense of control, escape, relaxation, and relief from boredom.

But there appears to be a line that, when crossed, can turn the concept of «just one more episode» into something detrimental to overall health and well-being.

Who’s Watching, and How Much?

Limelight’s State of Online Video 2019 research suggests that the United States is the world’s leader in binge entertainment consumption (defined as watching more than three shows or episodes in a row) with almost one-third of adults between the ages of 18 and 35 spending as long as three hours in a single sitting. Netflix, one of the world’s top binge-watching platforms, found that users on average finish an entire season of a TV series in one week.

Although researchers are still tackling this growing global phenomenon and its ramifications, binge-watching is not a one-size-fits-all behavior, according to a study of over 4,000 TV viewers published September 2019 in The Journal of Behavior Addictions.

The study’s findings showed that bingers fall along a continuum ranging from occasional binge-viewing for entertainment purposes on one end, to unregulated binge-watching on the other.

Unregulated binge-watchers gravitate toward habitual, frequent, and longer back-to-back sessions.

5 Ways TV Bingeing Might Hurt Your Health

Over time, those on the extreme ends of these habits may find that it harms their health in ways they didn’t anticipate, and possibly lead to more chronic bingeing and associated health risks, says Randall Wright, MD, a neurologist and medical director of brain wellness at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas.

Among the health risks experts worry about are:

1. Physical Inactivity

Couch potato habits (replacing an active lifestyle with a mostly sedentary one) are directly linked to a variety of poor outcomes, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and depression, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Wright says the challenges posed by COVID-19 may also deliver a double whammy; not only are people who shelter-in-place consuming more entertainment, but they are doing so both day and into the wee late-evening and early-morning hours.

A study published April 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggested that there is a distinction between active sitting (working on a computer at a desk) and nonactive sitting (watching television).

Nonactive sitting has been linked to as much as a 25 percent higher body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentages in young adults, as well as to metabolic syndrome overall, according to new research published in May 2020 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

RELATED: The Best Fat-Burning Exercises for at Home and the Gym

2. Snacking and Poor Dietary Intake

Snacking while bingeing can create an imbalanced calories in–calories out ratio. In fact, data published in July 2014 in PLoS One showed a strong link between television viewing and habitual eating, regardless of hunger level.

This is in part due to «distraction eating,» which is associated with more food intake and being overweight, according to a March 2020 study in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Wright adds that in the majority of cases, food choices during bingeing are not always the healthiest; “sweet beverages, popcorn, a cocktail or two, or a glass of wine on a daily or nightly basis add up,” he says.

RELATED: Why Are Healthy Eating Habits Important?

3. Social Isolation

Whether it is a television series or miniseries, daily (or nightly) engagement often becomes a substitute for companionship, according to research published December 2017 in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

Although some research points to the link between social isolation, binge-watching, and poor mental health outcomes, the verdict is still out, especially in the current environment.

Even when bingeing is a solo activity, it might be a good strategy for de-stressing, so long as it is done in moderation (one or two times a week).

What’s more, COVID-19-related «stay at home» orders have led to more family engagement in favorite activities, such as TV and movies, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at University of California in Riverside. Bingeing with family may contribute to happiness and an overall sense of well-being; “when it’s social, it can be a unique kind of pleasure that strengthens relationships,” she says.

RELATED: Top Self-Care Tips for Taking Care of You During the Coronavirus Pandemic

4. Sleep Disturbances and Poor Sleep Quality

Sleep “plays a vital role” in mental and physical health, quality of life, and safety, reports the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). According to the NHLBI, sleep helps the brain function properly and supports emotional well-being, heals and repairs blood vessels, promotes healthy growth, and maintains a healthy hormonal balance.

Research published August 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggested that binge frequency (not duration) negatively affects overall sleep quality, mainly because it interferes with the ability to «cool down» or shut off the brain.

In turn, it takes longer to fall asleep, especially if bingeing lasts until the early morning hours.

“This is probably the costliest factor,” says Wright, “because it also significantly affects stage three and four sleep, the times when your body does most of its restorative and reparative work.”

RELATED: What Happens When You Don’t Sleep for Days?

5. Behavioral Addiction

Wright says that researchers believe that binge-viewing (especially among unregulated bingers) may «tickle» the brain’s pleasure centers in certain viewers, much gambling or other habitual habits.

Because they are seeking increasing levels of gratification through story arcs and cliff-hanging endings, these bingers overindulge to the point where series watching spills into daily activities, interfering with work, school, or other commitments.

Research suggests that the dependence- features that make it difficult to stop watching TV are similar, neurologically, to those that occur in addiction.

Breaking the Binge Cycle: Opt for Moderation

Dr. Lyubomirsky is quick to point out that key to binge-watching is to make it an occasional pleasure and not an everyday event. However, breaking the bingeing cycle may be more difficult for some than for others, especially for people who are bordering on the unregulated binge area.

The following are a few easy tips to break the habit:

  • Wright suggests that people thoughtfully break their couch potato habits and try to be more active: Press pause and get up and stretch, or watch programs while on a treadmill or other exercise equipment.
  • For those inclined to reach for a snack and beverage, opt for berries, grapes, and other fruits, and skip the sugary beverages or mindless alcohol consumption. Be mindful of bingeing hours and preselect and stick to a time window (such as 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.) that allows for «emotional cooling» before bedtime.
  • Try to spread out consumption over the week rather than chunks at a time; not only does this prolong the pleasure derived from streaming favorite shows, but it may also help bingers to switch to more physical activities.

Most importantly, the next time you reach for the remote, remember: everything in moderation.


Screen Dependency Disorder: Effects of Screen Addiction

The Symptoms and Risks of Television Addiction

The next time you leave your house and venture off into a public place, take a minute to look around. If we’re living on the same planet, it won’t be long before you see a child with eyes glued to a screen almost as big as his or her face.

While we have witnessed some incredible technological advancements in the 21st century, parents have realized that handing a child their smartphone or tablet is a convenient solution for boredom or temper tantrums.

However, this thing called “screen time” is creating brand new mental health and behavioral problems in young kids. Some of them cry, some of them break things, and some even threaten suicide.

Screen Dependency Disorder: Excessive Screen Time Explained

Whether kids are playing video games or using smartphone apps, there is a growing mountain of evidence suggesting that young boys and girls are exhibiting addictive behavior. Why? Largely because of extensive exposure to (unregulated) screen time.

Whereas adult brains are more developed, children’s brains are susceptible to significant changes in structure and connectivity which can stunt neural development and lead to a screen dependency disorder. Other classifications of screen dependency disorder are:

  • Internet addiction disorders
  • Internet gaming disorder
  • Problematic internet use
  • Compulsive internet use
  • Pathological video game use
  • Video game addiction
  • Pathological technology use
  • Online game addiction
  • Mobile phone dependence
  • Social network site addiction
  • addiction

In psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman’s research paper published in the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association, he writes: “‘Addiction’ is a term increasingly used to describe the growing number of children engaging in a variety of different screen activities in a dependent, problematic manner.”

8 Major Symptoms of a Screen Dependency Disorder

If you have a child or grandchild, the following symptoms may present themselves if their screen time – especially on the internet and video games – compromises their ability to function.

  • Preoccupation
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Increasing tolerance
  • Failure to reduce or stop screen activities
  • Loss of outside interests
  • Continuation despite negative consequences
  • Lying about extent of use
  • Use to escape adverse moods

How Prevalent Is Screen Dependency Disorder Among Kids?

One 2015 study published in Behavioral Sciences (Basel) found that 12 percent of young American adolescent gamers to be “pathological video-gamers.”

Although playing video games does not require any chemical substances or intoxication, researchers suggest that it could lead to addiction- symptoms including the ones listed above.

For Seattle-based psychotherapist Dr. George Lynn, 80 percent of his patients’ issues stem from too much gaming, watching too many online videos, or excessively using social media. As a result, Dr. Lynn is witnessing “a personality syndrome that comes from basically unbridled, uncontrolled use of recreational use of screen media during the day and at night.”

“Most doctors, family doctors, even psychiatric practitioners are not hip to the obvious fact that a kid might be only getting two to three hours of sleep at night if that,” says Dr. Lynn. “And that causes personality problems.”

What Too Much Screen Time Is Really Doing to Our Kids

Becoming someone with a screen dependency disorder can have devastating effects. According to Family Life and Child Development specialist and Early Childhood Education consultant Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, a child’s screen dependency disorder may lead to insomnia, back pain, weight gain or loss, vision problems, headaches, anxiety, dishonesty, feelings of guilty, and loneliness.

Ultimately, however, the long-term effects of these symptoms can be as severe as brain damage.

In fact, multiple studies exploring the effects of screen dependency disorder have proven that children’s brains shrink or lose tissue in the frontal lobe, striatum, and insula; these areas help to govern planning and organization, suppression of socially unacceptable impulses, and our capacity to develop compassion and empathy, respectively.

“Devices or gadgets are not bad per se. They are useful and essential tools for communication, research, learning, entertainment, among other things,” says Dr. Avelino-Tandoc. “Parents are dealing with 21st century learners, what we call ‘digital natives.’ They should allow their kids to manipulate these tools. However, balance is the key word.”

5 Tips for Parents with Children Who Have a Screen Dependency Disorder

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendations for children’s media use and Dr. Lynn’s methods:

  1. For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  2. For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  3. For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  4. Set ground rules early and enforce themby designating media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  5. Stay in the conversationby having ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline

Originally reported by: Health Holistic Living

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brain health, Children, emotions, health, kids, kids technology, mental health, parenting


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