Netflix Addiction And The Science Behind It

It’s no secret that both America and myself watch Netflix…a lot.

C’mon though, how can you not? Thousands of options to chose from for only $8/month? Yes please. I guess you could say that it’s pretty addicting…

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As a college student, it’s common to hear other students say things like, “Forget homework, I’ll just watch Netflix.” Or, “Wow man, I’m so addicted to Netflix. Or god forbid, “Netflix and chill.” It’s obviously mostly lighthearted but it still always made me wonder if Netflix addiction is a real thing. So with the power of Google, I did some research.

Spending hour after hour on Netflix is a form of binge-watching, which falls under the umbrella of “television addiction.”

Binge-watching is here to stay and companies like Netflix and Hulu are well aware. The hook these companies cast to assure you’ll binge watch is cliff hangers. Cliff hangers are scientifically proven to activate stress.

When faced with the acute stress of not knowing what is going to happen next, the body produces an excess of CRH, a hormone that mediates the release of other stress hormones in the body. This causes the body to remain alert (our fight or flight response), which can disrupt sleep. So, when you’re faced with that cliffhanger at midnight, you’re suddenly not so tired and you find yourself pushing through the next show.

Yep, that sounds familiar. And boy does it take up a lot of time. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re watching one of Netflix’ most popular original series, House of Cards. Four, 13 episode seasons will run you exactly 52 hours of couch time, or two days and 4 hours.

But the reason they can make series so long is because your brain treats watching shows like a check list. In the world we live in, completing a series or season is an accomplishment you can boast to your friends about, and your brain likes that.

It seems silly when placed next to other “real” accomplishments, but Netflix is designed as a checklist for a reason. When we check an episode (or season!) off our list and move to the next, it triggers that gorgeous neurochemical cascade of serotonin (satiety) and dopamine (pleasure).

Dopamine release and motivation is a hallmark of addiction, which poses the question: Could we become addicted to Netflix? Many of us joke of being ‘addicted’ to our favorite shows, but maybe this sentiment means something much more serious to someone else.

Since 1996, Internet Addiction Disorder has been studied and considered for inclusion into the clinical setting as a documentable disorder. And, while this represents an extreme that won’t affect most Netflix users, it is a reality when you’re talking about binge-watching TV for hours on end.

Holy shit. Imagine the impact Netflix has on your social life.

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But how do you stop? I myself spend way too much of my free time absorbed into my latest series. In fact, the Netflix tab is open on my laptop right now as I’m writing this.

Of course, I adore other things like reading and going out for coffee. I also need to set aside a lot of time for studying, but somehow Netflix always finds a way to creep up on me when I have plans to do those things. And I usually don’t mind because when I get into something good, I don’t want to stop…and I guess that means I’m addicted to Netflix.


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