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Binge watching and behavioral problems

Opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not represent the views of SNL Kagan.

Compulsive binge watching, social networking, screen checking, posting, tweeting and gaming has spawned a new cluster of habitual conditions generally referred to as internet addiction disorders.

So far, only internet gaming has merited an emerging condition designation by the American Psychiatric Association. That is one step short of being classified as a formal "disorder" such as gambling, shopping, eating and a slew of other compulsions.

It's not surprising that habitual behaviors are growing as our time spent with popular digital media is also rising. Here's a summary of estimated average daily time spent with media from 2014 through 2016, which shows an aggregate 14.4% increase during the two-year span for selected media use and interaction. I have noted in red font only seven negative growth changes among the 36 tabulated for 11 popular media. The rest were all up.

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A recent article by The New York Times suggests that drug use is down because digital stimulation and entertainment is up. One clinical psychiatry professor notes that we are all carrying around "a portable dopamine pump" to get our short- term fix of a pleasing neurotransmitter via digitally delivered interactions, distractions and affirmations. Our use of personal digital devices is so relatively new — the smartphone is just 10 years old — that mental health researchers are just beginning to understand how they may affect our brains, especially in teenagers whose brains are still developing.

One psychologist who has counseled teens for two decades says he actually is more likely to have a bigger challenge reaching a student with a video-game addiction than with a drug addiction.

The average American checks their phone 150 times a day (a 2013 estimate) while the average teen opens their Snapchat app 18 times a day. A 2015 Gallup survey that says 63% of adults sleep with their phones while half the respondents in another 2012 survey copped to checking their emails while in bed (as reported by Mother Jones in its May/June 2014 issue).

Media tech providers may be much more aware of the addictive nature of their services than the users are. You may have noticed that Netflix Inc. often promotes the concept of binge watching in its press releases and advertisements. About 85% of respondents in a survey said they were aware of promotional messages encouraging the behavior.

Social psychologist and author Adam Alter notes in his new book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked that a private school in the San Francisco Bay Area does not allow phones or tablets in school, and 75% of the parents are tech executives.

If you determine that you're addicted to your phone, guess what? There's an app for that — lots of them, in fact. Most offer reminders when a user has exceeded personally set time parameters on the device or a web site, while others actually lock the user out. One actually creates a social media game whereby players can compete to see who uses their device the least. My favorite is the NoPhone, a replica of a smartphone, which does nothing.

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From an investors view, the growing discovery of compulsive media is something to be aware of but is not a concern — well, not yet. We do live in a litigious era, however, whereby enablers are often targeted in expensive lawsuits involving addictive behavior: bar owners, pornography publishers, pharmaceuticals, sugary soft drink and energy drink makers, and of course the mother lode of all addiction liability litigation — tobacco companies.

Screen addiction could be next.