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TV addiction signs, symptoms, and treatments

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TV addiction refers to obsessive behaviors around television that interfere with an individual’s daily life. Although not recognized as a diagnosable condition, excessive TV watching is a growing concern among experts and parents. 

The symptoms of TV addiction include watching TV longer than initially planned, experiencing emotional distress when TV viewing time is eliminated, using TV to deal with negative emotions, and struggling to maintain personal relationships. 

Several factors contribute to TV overuse. The causes of TV addiction include emotional relief from distress, an addictive personality, environmental deprivation in early childhood, and distraction from boredom.

The effects of TV addiction include reduced quality of sleep, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), negative body image, and an increased risk for physical illnesses.

What is TV addiction?

TV addiction is the compulsive viewing of television despite negative effects on emotional and social functioning. Television addicts often end up feeling worse after spending long hours watching TV, yet they feel powerless to stop the addictive behavior. 

Another defining feature of TV addiction is experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms when trying to cut down on excessive watching.

What are the causes of TV addiction?

The causes of internet addiction can be multifaceted and include different factors. The causes of TV addiction are listed below. 

  • Biological factors: The biological reasons for TV addiction include increased dopamine levels in the brain and an addictive personality. TV viewing can affect the brain by increasing the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. These rewarding effects contribute to habitual TV consumption. People who have addictive personality traits such as poor impulse control, risk-taking behavior, anxiety, and depression are also more likely to become addicted to television.
  • Psychological factors: include emotional relief from distress and distraction from boredom. Some people tend to use television to ease negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, or loneliness. People can also easily turn to the medium to distract themselves from boredom and other worries.
  • Social factors: Individuals who experienced environmental deprivation or the lack of conditions that encourage intellectual and behavioral development at an early age may be more prone to television addiction. These unmet needs could make people over-identify with television characters and as a result, turn to television for fantasies of an ideal life. People who find it difficult to maintain personal connections may also use TV to fill the gap of real-life relationships.

What are the effects of TV addiction?

 The effects of TV addiction are listed below. 

  • Positive effects: Watching television may help educate people, especially kids, through educational programs that can provide a solid foundation in different subject areas. Television watching can also be a way for families or friends to get together to watch sitcoms or TV shows together.
  • Negative effects: TV addiction has a plethora of negative effects, including poor quality of sleep and an increased risk for physical illnesses such as stroke and heart disease due to limited mobility. Too much time in front of the television can also cause women to develop a poor body image and has possible connections to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a 2013 study by Steve Sussman and Meghan B. Moran published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

What are the signs and symptoms of TV addiction?


The symptoms of TV addiction are indications that someone has developed problems with television watching. The most common signs and symptoms of TV addiction are listed below. 

  • Watching TV longer or more frequently than initially planned: TV addicts often consume television content far more than they intended. This often involves binge-watching or proceeding to watch several episodes of a show in one sitting despite only planning to watch a single episode.
  • Using TV to deal with negative emotions: Someone who is addicted to television may use the medium to relieve negative emotions or improve their mood. In the long run, however, people may use TV as an escape mechanism to avoid unpleasant life situations.
  • Struggling to maintain personal relationships: TV addicts may isolate themselves from family members or friends to allot more time for television watching. As a result, personal and social connections may suffer.
  • Experiencing emotional distress when TV viewing time is eliminated: Some people may experience withdrawal-like symptoms, including increased irritability, anxiety, and restlessness when deprived of TV time. Withdrawal symptoms may improve once access to television is regained.
  • Being unable to decrease viewing time despite multiple attempts: A TV addict may be aware of the huge amount of time that television viewing takes away from their day and may feel guilty about the lack of time for family or other activities that result from it. They may try to cut back on TV viewing but will repeatedly fail to do so.

Other possible TV addiction symptoms include:

  1. Developing health problems due to lack of physical activity
  2. Canceling plans with family or friends in favor of watching TV
  3. Letting go of other non-TV hobbies once enjoyed

How to overcome TV addiction

TV addiction can be overcome by practicing helpful strategies, including keeping track of the amount of time spent watching TV, finding alternative activities, and spending time with family or friends. These techniques help improve self-awareness and change behaviors that may have contributed to the condition. 

When it comes to gradually cutting down on TV viewing, one can create a personal inventory that will keep track of the amount of time spent watching each day. It is best to create a goal to limit TV usage to less than four hours a day. 

Finding new activities or hobbies to enjoy whether with family or friends is also an effective way to decrease TV watching. Social interactions also help repair relationships that were once damaged by excessive television consumption.

What are the risk factors for TV addiction?

Risk factors for TV addiction increase the likelihood of individuals developing problematic or addictive patterns of television viewing. The risk factors for TV addiction are listed below. 

  • Susceptibility to boredom: Someone who is easily bored may have difficulties expressing what they want to do and may have trouble naming their feelings. Susceptibility to boredom is linked to a wide array of issues, including impulsive behaviors, substance abuse, and TV addiction.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: People with ADHD have above normal levels of impulsive behaviors. They also have problems regulating dopamine. As a result, individuals with ADHD may use addictive behaviors as a way to self-medicate dopamine deficiency and avoid unpleasant feelings that may result from the condition.
  • Addictive tendencies: People who have addictive personality traits often fail to resist urges or impulses. These people have difficulty controlling emotions or behaviors, making them more susceptible to TV addiction.

How do you treat TV addiction?

TV addiction is treated by building better willpower and not giving in to short-term urges to achieve long-term goals. These involve exercising self-control that encourages lasting behavior change. 

In the case of TV addiction, a person can try enforcing time limits on TV viewing and committing to only watch a few TV shows in a day. Individual therapy approaches such as motivational interviewing (MI) may also help in treating TV addiction. MI is a counseling approach that involves helping people increase intrinsic motivation to elicit positive behavior change. 

A TV addict may benefit from motivational interviewing by learning how to overcome the lack of motivation and fear of change that often comes with any addiction. Group therapy is another treatment option that may help a person with TV addiction stay in touch with reality and decrease fantasy-based thinking toward television.

Why is TV addictive?

obese man watching television

Watching TV is addictive because it triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine, which provides the body with a natural reward of pleasure that makes a person continually engage in the activity. 

Television is an electronic device that transmits still or moving images together with sound and reproduces them on screens. As a telecommunication medium, television has many functions in our daily life. 

TV serves several purposes and can be used for watching the news, entertainment shows, sports events, documentaries, displaying presentations at work or university, playing music, and taking part in quiz shows in educational programs. 

Watching TV also has advantages, including having access to a variety of important information, being updated on current events, learning new skills, a way to enjoy and pass the time, and family bonding. 

In some cases, however, television viewing can have detrimental effects on a person’s overall health. The disadvantages of excessive TV watching include decreased productivity, increased antisocial behavior, sleep difficulties, obesity, family conflicts, overstimulation of the brain that can lead to a shorter attention span, and the risk for addiction.

TV can also be addictive for other reasons such as its use as a stress management tool, the character involvement that a person forms with characters on a program, and intense cravings for dopamine.

When is TV addiction counseling necessary?

TV addiction counseling is necessary when looking to develop non-TV hobbies and replace television with more productive alternatives to feel good. 

Counseling can also help a TV addict break free of the addiction by helping the affected individual understand the underlying causes of their problem and assisting them in developing coping strategies to deal with difficult situations in a more positive way. 

This helps an addicted person view a challenging situation in a new light and avoid repeated engagement in addictive behaviors around a television.

What are the symptoms of TV addiction withdrawal?

The symptoms of TV addiction withdrawal include increased irritability, anxiety, restlessness, high levels of stress, hopelessness, depression, and intense feelings of longing to watch TV. Withdrawal symptoms are often observed when a TV addict is prevented from viewing television. 

The drug-like high experienced in excessive television use can trigger these urges to continue the behavior once a person tries to cut down on the habit.

When does binge-watching TV become an addiction?

Binge-watching TV becomes an addiction when a person finds that they need to continually increase time spent in front of the screen to achieve the same positive effects as when they first engaged in problematic viewing behaviors.

Another telltale sign of a full-blown addiction to television is when an individual struggles to control how much time is spent on viewing television to the point of suffering from physical and mental health problems. These negative repercussions are also seen in other forms of addiction such as substance and alcohol abuse, according to a 2012 study on behavioral addiction versus substance addiction published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine.

What are the effects of television on the brain?

The effects of television on the brain include cognitive decline, shorter attention span, a decrease in verbal memory, and reduced gray matter in the brain. The negative impacts of TV watching on a person’s brain result from viewing television for prolonged periods.

Watching TV can cause cognitive decline due to the lack of interaction a person has with the rapid changes in images and sounds that the brain processes from the passive activity. Excessive TV viewing is also linked to reduced gray matter in the brain in middle-aged people, according to a 2022 study by Dougherty et al., published in Brain Imaging and Behavior

Gray matter is heavily involved in several brain functions, including information processing, hearing, vision, muscle control, and decision-making. Too much time in front of the screen is especially detrimental to a child’s developing brain and can result in overstimulation and a significant reduction in verbal IQ.

The intense level of stimulation in the brain that TV can cause may lead to a shorter attention span and poor self-regulation skills. A 2015 study on the impact of television viewing on brain structures published in the journal Cerebral Cortex also states that the more television kids watch, the more negative effects it has on the development of their verbal proficiency.