July 21, 2016

Entertainment Addiction: Are We Escaping Reality?

In part six of this seven-part series on addiction we peer through the glass of entertainment addiction and explore what it is and how it affects us.

For the final category in this series, we will look at a group of behaviors that can all fit under the umbrella of "Entertainment Addiction." While perhaps the least examined and talked about type of addiction, these can also be the most widespread. In fact, it's probably safe to say that it affects almost everyone, at some capacity, in the modern world.

What is Entertainment Addiction?

It's a fairly broad category that includes everything from movies and TV to video games, to celebrity gossip, to social media, and the internet. It includes the almost infinite variety of content available online and can even include the strange addiction of taking and posting "selfies." Yes, selfie addiction is a real thing.

Let's face it, our world today is saturated by media and it can be both a good and a bad thing.
  • Good: it allows us to connect with people who aren't physically nearby, to have access to all kinds of information, and to enjoy experiences that we might otherwise never have.
  • Bad: it can suck up our time, steal our joy, expose us to things we don't want in our life and take us away from the people and real-life experiences that are there right in front of us.
As with the other types of addictions we've addressed, entertainment addictions are no different in the sense that they are very efficient at triggering the release of dopamine into our brains.

It's no secret the compound dopamine thrives on novelty and stimulation, and there's no shortage out there. In addition to the vast choices already available, more movies, YouTube videos, TV shows, games, gossip, blogs, web articles, etc., only add to the nausea in our lives.

With laptops, smartphones, iPads, wearable devices, and so on keeping us connected, we have almost constant access to a never-ending stream of entertainment. Entertainment to help us escape from everyday life.

Is it Love or Addiction?

So how can you tell whether you're just a movie buff that loves watching movies or whether you have an addiction? How do you tell if you're just really passionate about gaming or if you have a gaming addiction? How much time on the internet is too much time? And when does social media use cross-over that boundary into the realm of addiction? To help provide answers, we turn to a definition of addiction.

PsychologyToday tells us that addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. The website also goes on to explain that most addictive behavior is triggered by emotional stress.

The Root Problem

In previous articles, we've explored how various addictive substances can fill the six human needs as coined by self-improvement guru Tony Robbins. However, because entertainment addiction can be such a broad category in itself we're going to explore the various types within that category.

As mentioned above, addictive behavior, especially when not to a substance, is usually triggered by emotional stress. We get lonely, angry, frustrated, weary. We feel 'weighed down,' helpless, and weak.

What we want, at that moment, is to escape. To escape our day-to-day problems. Distance ourselves from the pain and find pleasure and an emotional high elsewhere. We want to escape our reality.

Leaving the Real World

This concept is known as "escapism." While escapism isn't always a bad thing—sometimes it's good to take a little break from your troubles to refresh and recharge.
Escapism only becomes a problem when we begin to replace reality with whatever we're escaping to.
How does it affect us and our true realities? In more ways, than you might think. For instance, it begins to interfere with our work, relationships, hobbies, and many other aspects of our life.

This is because we've somehow learned escaping into the world of movies, video games, social media, or the latest celebrity gossip helps us detach from the world around us. The problem is we start to let it consume our time and energy. Sound familiar to the description of an addiction?

The website FeelHappiness explains that,
"Escapism allows us to numb ourselves to a reality that we do not want to accept."
It allows us to avoid pain in our lives. Even if it's only temporary. It allows us to imagine we're someone other than ourselves with a better life. One that we can't experience in reality.

Where We Escape To

Probably the most common and the easiest form of escapism in entertainment is movies and television. For two hours or forty minutes or even twenty, we live in another world. We relate, connect, and experience the highs and lows of the characters on screen as though we are living them out ourselves. The difference is, we don't actually have to think, act, or give any consideration to our own lives.

A close second is gaming. Whether it be on the Playstation, XBOX, PC, tablet, or phone. Even though gaming requires the gamer to exert a certain level of thinking, the gaming world we immerse ourselves in is still far removed from our own. And to many, it's preferable. There are so many things you can do in a game that you couldn't—or wouldn't—do in reality.

Another example is with internet browsing. How often have you gotten sucked into a click-bait hole while surfing the web that has lead you into hours upon hours of browsing? Whether it's news and politics, fanfiction, popular blogs, interesting trivia, or celebrity gossip, there's always more. Once again, it takes the focus off of ourselves and transports us elsewhere.

Celebrity gossip can be a particularly potent form. We see the posts appear on our Facebook feed, "10 celebrities you didn't know were gay", "23 awkward child stars who grew up hot" or "7 things you didn't know about the Kardashians." It's continuous, and for hours it can keep us scrolling, clicking, watching.

Why? Celebrities have (seemingly) glamorous, exciting lives. They inhabit what appears to be a different kind of reality than ours, one that we're curious about. One we can't help wanting to know more about, even if we know, on some level, that they're really—just people like us.

Social Media Addiction

This article wouldn't be complete without mention of social media. Social media sites are among some of the most popular sites people spend most of their time on. Again, social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. can be a wonderful tool for communication, learning, expressing ourselves, discovery, and more.

But they can also engulf us into hours of meaningless, time wasted clicking and scrolling. We escape into either obsessing over the lives of others (which often leads to comparison and jealousy) or into desperately seeking affirmation by counting "likes" and hounding comments on our own posts.

Selfie Addiction

The pursuit for affirmation can lead to what The Huffington Post calls "selfie addiction." The young man mentioned in the article, Danny Bowman, became so obsessed that he was at one point taking up to 200 pictures a day of himself to post on social media.

We all know the teenage girls who post way too many photos of themselves which show up on our Instagram feed. Chances are, they've grown dependent on the high they get from sharing their image with the world. Seeking affirmation for their looks.

When To Make A Change

Again, none of these forms of entertainment are inherently harmful. Movies, TV, and gaming can be great ways to relax and unwind. Social media can keep us connected in good ways. Not to mention, the internet is full of useful and inspiring information.

So how do we make a change?

As with many other things, it starts with taking a step back. Look at the big picture. What are your goals? Are you taking any steps to achieve them? Is more of your time spent mindlessly than purposefully? Maybe you want to learn an instrument but haven't found the time. Could a few hours of web surfing be repurposed to fit in a few hours of practice? Or perhaps you would like to get in shape. Could you trade in your Netflix subscription in for a gym membership?

It's Your Move

Take a look at your life. Take a look at your goals. And, take a look at how you spend your time. What are you missing out on? Are you ultimately happy with your life? Or are you frustrated by your seeming inability to stop these unfavorable and unproductive behaviors?

Remember, a life without endless, time-consuming entertainment is possible. But, first, you have to make a choice, set your priorities, and commit to those decisions.

In the next and final installment in this series, we'll go over some tactics for breaking all kinds of addictions. But in the meantime, observe yourself and your life. Take honest self-inventory. Step out of the 'fantasy' for a little while and face the music. Who knows. It just may be better than you remembered.

Other articles in this 7-part series:

  1. What is an Addiction and Addiction Formation.
  2. Stages of Addiction: Are You Addicted?
  3. Substance Abuse: The Catalyst for Drug Addiction.
  4. Sexual Addictions: The Science and Psychology.
  5. Food Addictions: It's Not Just About Food.
  6. (This article)
  7. Breaking an Addiction: How to Set Yourself Free.