In Binged, Mashable breaks down why we binge-watch, how we binge-watch, and what it does to us. Because binge-watching is the new normal.
Pretty much everyone knows the pain of a breakup. For a while, this person was your whole world. You’d spend hours and days in their company, think about them when you weren’t together, smile at the thought of seeing them at the end of the day.
And then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. The relationship has run its course, and it’s time to thank u, next into the future. So it is with love, and so it is with television. In the age of the binge, our time with a show can feel like a whirlwind romance that ends in a flash and leaves us empty with longing.
So why is it so hard to get over a binge?
The mental and emotional attachment we feel to a show we just immersed ourselves in is completely normal — scientific, even. In a 2017 interview, Dr. Renee Carr explained how binge-watching releases dopamine in the brain, a chemical associated with pleasure.
Binge-watching releases dopamine in the brain
“It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!'” she said.
Other things that produce dopamine: dark chocolate, exercise, drugs, sex.
“The neuronal pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as an addiction to binge watching,” Dr. Carr said. And the end of a binge is a minor withdrawal.
It can also be difficult to separate fiction from reality, not only because TV is getting better and better, but because when we’re steeped in a binge we end up spending more time with these characters than with our own friends and family. The brain interprets this a lot like experiencing the show’s events and emotions in real life, which makes it harder to leave those things behind.
I started Lovesick on Jan. 1, 2018 (a day after watching the entirety of Search Party Season 2 in one sitting, but that is for another time). I flew through its 22 episodes in days. The show was such a pure comfort against my own stumbles through love and lust, and a balm against one the coldest weeks of the winter. It also genuinely felt like I was making and spending time with new friends: The characters were all in their mid- to late 20s, with the reliable history, traditions, and seminal memories that I share with my own friends in real life.
When I finished Lovesick, I didn’t know what to do.
When I finished Lovesick, I didn’t know what to do. I have an endless list of shows to watch, from recent Netflix releases right up to The Sopranos, but I didn’t want to say goodbye to Luke, Evie, Dylan, and Angus. I didn’t want to make new friends when the ones I now felt close to were right there, just a click away. I made my first executive self-care decision of the year when I decided, in the same week I started and finished Lovesick, to start it again.
Dopamine analogies aside, binge-watching TV is decidedly different from imbibing illegal drugs. It’s easier to phase out a binged show or to return to it in moderation (random Lovesick episodes are still a reliable safety blanket when I’m too overwhelmed to choose something new to watch). We’re lucky to have quality TV that stimulates and connects us, so next time you binge a show, savor your time with it. Think of it as moving house — you’ll always treasure that chapter of your life, but you’re somewhere else now. You can always come back for a visit.