Binge-watching, a new pathological concern

As TV-content has become more and more available, consumption has also shot through the roof. But what happens when watching series turns into a problem?

Illustration by Shaumya Sankar

Binge-watching can be defined as a bulimic or “burst” viewing of several episodes of a TV series simultaneously. In the literature, it is often defined as watching more than two episodes of a tv series in one setting (Steins-Loeber et al., 2020). What characterizes binge-watching from other types of TV series viewing is specifically the word binge, which refers to something excessive, in this case, the excessive consumption of TV series.

Binge-watching is a new phenomenon whose appearance is closely related to the increasingly easy access to various online streaming services such as Netflix. Because of its various negative consequences observed through the years, such as; loss of control, neglect of essential tasks and duties, sleep problems, reduced social contacts, and unhealthy eating, binge-watching has been considered to share some problematic characteristics with substance-related or behavioral addictions, earning itself a place as  a new addictive behavior (Steins-Loeber et al., 2020).

However, even though it seems to have an uncanny amount of things in common with the more familiar types of addiction, it is important to acknowledge the differences between addictive behaviors and binge-watching. While there are certainly pathological aspects, or behaviors that can have important negative aspects, a more nuanced appreciation is necessary to avoid overly pathologizing view of a rather common activity.  (Steins-Loeber et al., 2020).  Researchers have named some characteristics that can help differentiate between pathological and non-pathological binge-watching. One of them is the fact that many cases of over-involvement in TV series are transitory. In other words, the behavior is closely linked to the context or the events that occur in a person’s life. Many people go through periods of binge-watching, but then return to a more normal state of affairs. 

Secondly, most cases of binge-watching have a relatively low impact on daily life, largely due to the transitory nature of the phenomenon, as we just discussed. Finally, when asked, people also report a positive opinion of binge-watching as it allows them to escape the present and to relax for some time. This last point might bring our thoughts to classic models of substance abuse, but the important difference is that going on a week long alcohol binge holds countless potential dangers for both you and the people around you, a week of watching too much TV in response to a difficult period (say right before exams!) holds little consequences beyond that immediate period of time. While maybe not the ideal, it’s far from the traditional problematic coping-strategies. 

In sum, that’s why we can’t label all episodes of binge-watching as a behavioral cousin of  classical pathological addictive disorders, despite them having quite a few things in common. 


Steins-Loeber, S., Reiter, T., Averbeck, H., Harbarth, L., & Brand, M. (2020). Binge-Watching Behaviour : The Role of Impulsivity and Depressive Symptoms. European Addiction Research, 26(3), 141‑150.

Flayelle M, Maurage P, Billieux J. Toward a qualitative understanding of binge-watching behaviors: A focus group approach. J Behav Addict. 2017 Dec; 6(4): 457–71

Post, T. J. (s. d.). One more episode, please? : Why we can’t stop binge-watching on Netflix. The Jakarta Post. Consulté 4 février 2022, à l’adresse 

The pros and cons of binge-watching. (2017, février 27). Den of Geek.