Addicted to the art of binge-watching


Graphic Illustration by Vidushi Upadhyay

Binge-watching, or the act of watching multiple episodes or an entire season of a show in one sitting, has gained immense popularity in past years. Currently, around 70% of Americans say they binge-watch television shows.

Sitting with laptop in hand and schoolbooks scattered about, the tedium of studying sets in and the allure of a brightly-lit screen and a beckoning Netflix tab eventually proves too strong to resist. Binge-watching, or the act of watching multiple episodes or an entire season of a show in one sitting, has gained immense popularity in past years. Currently, around 70% of Americans say they binge-watch television shows. These numbers are worrisome to experts, as binge-watching can lead to unhealthy consequences such as issues with depression and sleep and the loss of a healthy lifestyle.  

Binge-watching initially grew in popularity from 2011-2015, as streaming services such as Netflix offered entire shows on demand for viewers to consume. The term “binge-watching” was first coined in 2003 but it wasn’t until 2015 that binge-watch was named word of the year by the Collins English Dictionary. With the proliferation of streaming services, viewers have increasingly more opportunities to consume large quantities of content at once. 

“Streaming services have definitely allowed for a lot of people to binge-watch more episodes at a time,” sophomore Rachana Dandamudi said. “Before, on TV channels, you had to wait for episodes to come out every week, but for Netflix and other streaming services, they’re all available for you right then and there so you can watch them without anything stopping you.” 

Sitcoms like “Friends,”“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Office,” with episodes usually running for 20-30 minutes, offer viewers a large amount of content in sectioned proportions, making them easier to consume in a single sitting. The result is an addictive and satisfying viewing experience for fans to fall into the “just one more episode” trap. 

During COVID-19, living in isolation caused the percentage of people binge-watching to increase dramatically. Starting from March 14, 2020, HBO Max observed a 65% increase in the number of subscribers who watched three or more episodes in one sitting. Other streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime reported similar trends, creating and releasing more content in order to keep up with viewer demands.

“Streaming services make a lot of money out of people getting addicted to these shows.” said Grace Estrada, Ph.D., a full-time Psychology faculty member and the Student Learning Outcome Coordinator for Evergreen Valley College. “Their algorithm is made to recommend more shows that viewers will like, so you’re even more stuck.”

People tend to binge-watch as it leaves them with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment due to the dopamine that is released during the activity. Satisfying one’s desire for entertainment activates the part of the brain that provides a sense of accomplishment.

“With today’s streaming services, there is no need for delayed gratification,” Estrada said. “People see no reason to wait to watch television shows, whether they are hoping to be the first to finish the episodes or are desperately trying to catch up to their friends and family.”

The addictive nature of binge-watching deteriorates attention spans. Unable to wait to consume media at their fingertips, binge-watchers have a constant craving to be entertained; thus, companies and streaming services feed on this addiction by creating episodes with cliffhangers, compelling the audience to continue watching. 

Experts have linked increased chances for cardiovascular disease, depression and sleep problems with binge-watching. Binge-watching results in heart problems as spending long periods in a sitting or reclined position while watching TV reduces one’s overall health and increases the risk of developing fatal diseases. Many binge-watchers have been found to lead unhealthy lifestyles with a lack of exercise and a habit of binge eating which is directly linked to a weakened heart and increased vulnerability to sleep problems, blood clots and cognitive decline. 

“But binge-watching can still be done in a healthy way,” Estrada said. “I enjoy binge-watching with my family, and if it’s done with others, you avoid isolation. Watching with others also increases accountability and eliminates the desperation to finish first or catch up to others.”