Tempted by Addictive Shows? Here’s Why to Avoid Them

Tempted by Addictive Shows? Here’s Why to Avoid ThemLast Wednesday afternoon, I received a thought-provoking promotional insert along with my AT&T phone bill. It reads:

AT&T unlimited wireless plans come with entertaining movies and addictive shows on HBO.®

I interrupted my housemate’s lunch with my expression of shock: “Can you believe this? AT&T is promoting addictiveness as a reason to get HBO?!! Shouldn’t that be a reason to stay away?”

Personally, I have avoided purchasing DIRECTV and such because I am extremely susceptible to binge watching. I’m fine if I don’t start watching, but as soon as I do, I’m hooked. Therefore, the word “addictive” turns me off. I don’t want it.

Do you want to be addicted? Take this 2-question survey.

I’m curious. How would you answer these questions?

Drug Marketing vs. TV Marketing

Historically, companies have attempted to promote products based on the claim that the products are NOT addictive. Perhaps the most apt example is the marketing of OxyContin, a drug introduced in 1996 by Purdue Pharma, which has become famous for its addictive properties. A 2009 paper in the American Journal of Public Health, The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy, points out that “a consistent feature in the promotion and marketing of OxyContin was a systematic effort to minimize the risk of addiction in the use of opioids for the treatment of … pain.” This misrepresentation resulted in successful lawsuits against Purdue to the tune of $634 million.

Can you imagine a drug company’s promoting a painkiller with “It comes with highly addictive properties!”? Probably not. Most people would choose a different drug.

At least my phone company and HBO will not be sued for misrepresentation. They own the addictive nature of the TV and video “drug” straight out. But why would addiction be a selling point?

To investigate more, I researched the phenomenon of “Netflix Addition,” which runs rampant and is growing with every season. It turns out that binge-watching shows like those on Netflix releases fairly substantial amounts of the pleasurable neurotransmitter, dopamine. And the sense of accomplishment from finishing an episode, or a season, releases another pleasurable neurotransmitter, serotonin. The combination is a sure recipe for addiction.

The Perils of TV Addiction

Why is this pleasurable cycle a problem?

Sleep Deprivation

Well, for one thing, it makes us spend more time than we know we can reasonably afford to spend watching TV. We say we will stop and then we don’t, often staying up until the wee hours of the morning. As if this sleep deprivation weren’t enough, the light from the shows can boost serotonin and make us feel wide awake, thus decreasing the quality of any sleep we do get.

Relationship Strain

We frequently ignore calls from friends and family when we’re in the middle of a show or a binge, thus missing out on real connections and distancing people we love. Maybe we even lie to them about how much we’re watching. In actuality, watching shows is a poor substitute for true emotional connection. But we forget that in our addictive haze.

Health Consequences

While caught up in addictive shows, we sit for long periods and maybe skip the gym, often eat low-nutrient easy-to-grab foods, and maybe even forgo basic self-care because somehow watching just a few more minutes of that show seems more important.

Career Blocker – Don’t let this happen to you!

Netflix, Amazon or HBO addiction is not conducive to top workplace performance or a successful job search. In addition to not sleep deprivation, there is a part of your brain that will be occupied with wanting to get back to that show you were watching instead of focusing on your job or other important tasks.

If you find yourself indulging, how about taking a week off from all those so carefully crafted addictive shows that suck your attention and time? During that week, track whether you sleep more, whether your focus and job performance improve, and whether you stop avoiding the true priorities in your life.

If you’re a job seeker, consider this: Getting a blast of dopamine and serotonin with the simple push of a button might seem like more fun than rewriting your resume or LinkedIn profile, but the results you’ll get are ultimately unsatisfying at best, and harmful at worst. While you might enjoy a temporary blast from that next episode of Stranger Things, doing something positive for your long-term goals will ultimately be way more fulfilling.


  1. Technology has turned me into a bit of a binge watcher. My favorite device happens to be my TiVo to make TV watching more convenient, but a side effect is that it automatically sets me up to binge watch. Since I set the TiVo up a long time ago with some favorite program names, I don’t even have to think about it and the TiVO shows me a list of show names with the number and dates of episodes that it automatically recorded since I last looked at the machine. Once I watch one episode, I feel a need to get them all done and deleted. Another modern invention is a channel called “Decades” that sequentially shows all the episodes of an old series non-stop day and night until they are gone, and then moves onto another series. If I make the mistake of watching one episode that only gives part of the story, I am hooked and set up the TiVo to record the whole group overnight. Once I have them recorded, I then feel pressure to get them watched and deleted.

    There is an upside to this. Nowadays, there are programs directly related to my professional life, ranging from several with entrepreneurs presenting their business ideas to potential partners or investors, to employers interviewing candidates and showing how they decide which candidate to hire, etc. But my main binge watching tends to be dramatic series, ranging from useless drivel through some classy historic PBS series.

    BUT here’s the real bottom line. You mention addictive shows sucking people’s time and attention. My personal observation is that what seems to mainly suck people’s time and attention these days are social networking sites, such as Facebook, etc. I have friends who are doctors, lawyers, rabbis, business professionals, etc. who spend hours on end posting or commenting to posts by others on Facebook. And I admit that even though I understand this is a total waste of time, it’s hard for me to not take a look, and then to reply when someone posts something with which I don’t necessarily agree. TV binge-watching wastes little time by comparison.

  2. The only shows I am addicted to are the famous pro-wrestling shows, Raw and Smackdown, on Monday and Tuesday respectively. This is perhaps the main thing I have in common with President Trump. Did you know Trump has been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame? It’s true. Oh, it’s damn true. And since I want you all to know Donald Trump as I know Donald Trump, may I suggest that you watch his delightful free videos provided by the WWE Network at this web location: https://www.wwe.com/videos/playlists/donald-trump-greatest-wwe-moments
    I hope you become just as addicted to his many zany antics as I am. Can’t get enough of the guy!!!

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