Depression, loneliness linked to binge-watching TV

istockphoto

Settling on the couch and into an all-night marathon of "Game of Thrones" or "Scandal" can feel like the ultimate in relaxation. For some, the best way to tune out the world is to turn on the television. But while binge-watching television may seem like a perfectly harmless way to occupy your Friday night, it may actually be an indication of serious mental health problem.

A study published Thursday found people who binge-watch television tend to be among the most depressed and lonely.

"Given that binge-watching involves obsessed, intense, and dedicated behavior, characteristics indicative of addictive behaviors, it is expected that negative emotions such as loneliness and depression will be positively associated with binge watching," the researchers write in their study.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 316 young people about their television-viewing habits. The study participants, all between the ages of 18 and 29, also answered questions about how frequently in life they experienced feelings of depression and loneliness. The researchers found the people who reported more feelings of depression and loneliness tended to watch more television. The study also found problems with self-control were associated with excessive television. In many instances, some viewers reported they were unable to stop clicking "next" on their remote controls even if they had other important tasks to complete.

Binge-watching is classified as viewing between two to six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting, according to the researchers.

This television-viewing habit doesn't only cause a person to become less productive, it also impacts physical health. Watching television is a sedentary activity that frequently goes hand-in-hand with eating, which means it can put a person at risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions. All of these ailments will likely endure long after the final season of "Downton Abbey."

The researchers presented their findings at the 65th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Though binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon, research is showing that the habit is driven by the same impulse as other addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, which involve firing up the dopamine receptors, the reward center of the brain.

But the researchers also point out that ironically the habit serves as a means to bond with peers. "Binge-watching allows viewers to join in on conversations about a program with friends. Doing so may give them a sense of belonging to a community," the researchers write in their study.

  • Jessica Firger On Twitter»

    Jessica Firger covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com