What to Know About TV Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 17, 2021

Watching TV is one of the most popular things to do throughout the world. It only takes a quick look at the ever-growing amount of content available to see why. While there are a few beneficial features of watching TV, such as increasing your opportunities to learn and communicate with other, many negative effects can come from overwatching. 

The Traits of a TV Addiction

Addiction itself can be defined as an excessive behavior or dependence on a substance or action/activity. Addicts use their addition to feel predictability, control, and to lessen tension. For example, being addicted to TV, which is a behavioral addiction, has been found to provide effects similar to other types of addictions. 

There are different levels of addiction to TV. There still needs to be more research to define the categories of normal amounts of TV to watch versus problem levels of viewing. One study used categories that are common facets of addictive TV watching: ‌

  1. Heavy viewing
  2. Problem viewing
  3. Craving for viewing
  4. Withdrawal 

Different studies have argued for different amounts of time spent watching TV per day. However, these studies are mostly based on the average person in America. In one study, the average amount is 2-3 hours per day. Another study claimed that 4-plus hours is regarded as heavy viewing. Yet another study did not base TV viewing/addiction on hours but on how or if it takes over real-life experiences. Ultimately, an addiction is thought of as a psychological dependence.

The Cycles of Addiction

The American Psychiatric Association lists seven parts that make up an addiction:

  1. Tolerance, where you need more of an action to get the same feeling. 
  2. Withdrawal, when you feel unwell if you stop an action, and need to continue to feel well again. 
  3. You will continue an action for a longer time or do more than you had initially planned. 
  4. You always feel the need to do the action and have often tried to stop unsuccessfully. 
  5. You spend a lot of time using and recovering from an action. 
  6. You stop spending time on important things and people in your life.
  7. You keep on doing it even though it isn’t making you feel good. 

While most of these symptoms may be experienced throughout an addiction cycle, only 3 are needed to be officially classified as an addiction. However, many of these symptoms have been found in people who are struggling with a TV addiction. ‌

That being said, more research needs to be done to determine whether a TV addiction can be classified as a genuine addiction, which has the same symptoms as clinical psychological dependence. Also, potential solutions to help people with TV addictions need more research as well. ‌

A recent study on TV addiction found that addiction is more common with people who are divorced, widowed, or are not married. However, this study also shows that you are more likely to develop a TV addiction as you get older and the longer you are married. Also, the more people there are in your household, the less likely a TV addiction is to happen. ‌

This study also repeats what has been shown in previous studies. Excessively watching TV is often used to help take your mind off of something distressing and to help with moods and situations that are unpleasant. 

Positive Effects of Watching TV

Although there is little proof about the positive effects of TV addiction, it is worth mentioning. One finding is that TV may help turn college students away from partying and substance abuse and help promote religious beliefs. TV has also been found to encourage bonding moments, such as families or groups of friends getting together to watch a show. Watching TV also can act as a form of education for people, including topics on health and social relationships. ‌

As there are two sides to a coin, watching TV is no exception. Therefore, it is important to make sure that watching TV works for your benefit and not the other way around.

Negative Effects of Watching TV

Ultimately, being addicted to TV is proven to be a real issue. Some issues that have been found with watching a lot of TV include a negative body outlook among women, problems with sleeping, possible contribution to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and a sedentary lifestyle. What’s more, children (between 8-16 years) are found to have a higher body mass index and body fat when watching 4-plus hours of TV per day, as compared to their peers who watch less than two hours. 

If you think you may be struggling with a TV addiction, talk to your doctor about your TV watching habits, and they will work with you to figure out how best to help you.

Show Sources


American Psychiatric Association: “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM:IV.”

Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry: “Television addiction: Implication for enhancing media literacy for healthy use of technology.”

Journal of Behavioural Addictions: “Hidden Addiction: Television.”
Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media: “Measuring Television Addiction.”

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