What's Up With Television?
Studies have shown that the average person spends half of their leisure time, or three hours, each day watching television. Heavy television watchers have reported that they watch eight (or more) hours of television each day. These heavy television watchers or self-labeled "TV Addicts" tend to be 34.5 years old, but range from age 18 to 70.
Does this make heavy television watchers "addicted" to television?
What Are The Types of Television Use?
In a 1990 study, it was determined that there existed three types of television use. These types of television watching included:
Dysphoric Mood - or, watching television to distract oneself from unpleasant moods and feelings. Can be a way to emotionally numb oneself from feeling anything too difficult or overwhelming.
Filling Time - watching television because the person is bored and there's nothing else around to capture their attention.
Divided Attention - having the television on while doing other things. This would include people who engaged in other activities - knitting, exercising, working - while the television was on.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is defined as being abnormally tolerant to and dependent upon something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming.
Addiction is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships.
Like other chronic diseases, addiction involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive.
Okay...But What About Television Addiction?
Historically, addiction has been defined only in regard to substances that cross the blood-brain barrier once ingested and temporarily alter the chemical makeup of the brain.
A first draft in the DSM-V has suggested a new category of mental disorders called the "Behavioral Addictions" as an actual stand-alone diagnosis.
Does Television Addiction Exist?
There's no question that television can be used as a teaching tool, something that can provide humor and distraction and escape from every day troubles. The problem with television occurs when a person realizes that he or she needs to stop watching as much television, yet finds that he or she is unable to stop watching TV.
Does that qualify as addiction to television? Experts are torn. Many feel that using the word "addiction" to cover everything from pathological gambling to fire-starting is setting a bad precedence.
If a person displays certain addictive behaviors, like craving, compulsive use, neglecting other responsibilities, feeling withdrawal when addictive object is taken away, it may constitute an addiction.
Addiction does hijack the brain's reward center and releases dopamine - the pleasure chemical - when we acquire things we biologically need, like food or sexual activity. Television watching taps into that pleasure center of the brain and releases dopamine.
Watching television may have a numbing effect on the brain which tranquilizes the body, causing drowsiness. While watching television, a person disengages from real life and becomes immersed with the television program. This escapism may lead to increased amounts spent in front of the television.
So while no formal diagnosis of "television addiction" or "TV Addict," may be made, the pattern of increased need and reliance upon television for pleasure and relaxation may cause many people to feel as though they are addicted to television.
What Are The Possible Signs of Television Addiction?
While there is no diagnostic criteria for television addiction, the working definition of "television addiction" is "heavy television viewing that's subjectively experienced as being (to some extent) involuntary, taking the place of more productive activities, that is difficult to stop.
The proposed diagnostic criteria are loosely based upon the DSM-IV definition for substance dependence:
- Television watching takes up much of the person's time.
- A person watches television longer or more frequently than intended.
- He or she has withdrawn from - or given up - important social, work, or family activities in order to watch television.
- He or she has "withdrawal-like" symptoms of discomfort when he or she is deprived of his or her television.
What Are Some Effects Of Television Addiction?
It's hard to imagine something as innocuous as television actually causing harm to viewers. But there are some negative consequences that may occur when one watches too much television. The consequences of being a TV addict may include the following:
- Makes you forget about reality - TV and movies have shown us that being quirky and weird is a plus, especially as a teen, something we all know may not be true during those years. TV tells us that we should expect a romantic courtship followed by the wedding of your dreams, without showing how a relationship really works.
- Television can induce guilt - if you're watching television to avoid unpleasant tasks or know you're spending far too long in front of the television, you will begin to feel guilt. This guilt will increase dramatically the longer the viewing continues.
- Studies have shown that watching TV for long periods of time leads to depression. This depression may prevent you from stopping the overuse of television, thereby starting a vicious cycle of depression and addiction.
How To Avoid or Overcome Television Addiction:
While it may seem impossible to overcome, an addiction to TV can be overcome. Like any addiction, though, it takes real work to work through a television addiction.
Here are some tips for overcoming a TV Addiction:
Keep a daily diary of the amount of television you watch. Include the times and programs you watch as well as your mood, any life stressers, and anything else pertinent (like an illness) Keep this journal for a week to see if you can find any patterns in your television watching habits.
Make a list of all of the other non-television activities you find pleasurable - especially activities around the home. These can include family-fun activities, exercise, gardening, reading, writing and other activities. Tape this list to your television and refrigerator so that you may read it before turning on the television.
Set a very specific amount of time that you may watch television each day. In your journal, record the precise amount you watch each day. Stick to this commitment no matter how tempting it may be to turn on the television.
Think about doing something else while you watch television. Exercise. Write. Play a game. Knit. Things that you can do while the television is on.
Think about actually removing the television from your home for a set period of time. While it is gone, you may notice activities you enjoy rather than watching the television.
Recovering from Television Addiction:
Step One: Decide to make a change. This is the hardest step for most addicts. Here are some ideas for preparing for the change.
- Write down your reasons for changing your television watching habits.
- Set specific and measurable goals - like a quit date
- Look back and learn from past attempts to quit and recall what worked and what didn't work.
- Build a support network who knows you have an addiction and that you're trying to quit.
- Create a list of reasons that you're quitting and keep it with you at all times.
Step Two: Treatment for Television Addiction. In any treatment, you must treat not just your television addiction, but any other mental illnesses or problems you have. Keep in mind:
- Treatment is different for every person.
- Treatment requires both commitment and follow-through.
- Consult a therapist to form a treatment plan for kicking the television habit.
Step Three - Develop a support system who understands your problem and how you are working to fix it.
Step Four - Manage stresses. Many types of addiction are triggered by unhealthy attempts at self-medication to relieve stresses. It's imperative for a television addict to manage stress in more healthy ways. Here are some healthy ways to manage stress:
- Listening to calming music
- Petting an animal
- Taking a hot, relaxing bath
Step Five: Controlling Triggers. It's important for your recovery to control triggers and cravings for television. Ways to control television triggers may include the following:
- Avoid bars and places that have televisions.
- Talk through any cravings you may have with someone who gets it.
- Look at the list of the reasons you're quitting watching TV. In the middle of a craving, it may feel as though the positives of your television addiction are much higher than the negatives. Reminding yourself the reasons you chose to treat your addiction to television is very important during recovery from TV addiction.
- Distract yourself while you're in the midst of a craving - read a book, go jogging, focus your attention anywhere else.
- Challenge your thoughts and formerly held beliefs.
Step Six: Develop a New TV-Free Life. You have the opportunity to change your life - to make it whatever you want it to be. Do it! Here are some ideas:
- Set and work toward goals
- Care for your health
- Find a hobby
- Join a club
Step Seven: Relapse. While frustrating and discouraging, relapsing does happen. Instead of thinking of the negatives, use the relapse as a way to revamp your recovery. Relapse is not a failure. So get back on the recovery train and ride it!