An apparent case of “Netflix addiction” has emerged in India, where the video-streaming site has surged as areas long cut off from the internet get connected with on-demand entertainment.
A 26-year-old sought help at an addiction center in the southern city of Bangalore, convinced that his waning attention span, reluctance to interact with others and seclusion were caused by his obsessive need to watch videos for seven to 10 hours a day.
The man’s condition in many ways mirrored cases of people addicted to social media or online gaming, which global health experts this year classified as a disorder in which gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, said Dr. Manoj Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at the Services for Healthy Use of Technology, or SHUT, where the man was treated.
“It is enforcing the person’s presence in the virtual world, whether it would be gaming or social media,” Sharma said, adding that the temporary solace the internet provides pushes the individual into seclusion.
As long as patients like his are watching shows, they remain in the on-screen world and don’t remember reality, he said. It becomes a method for them to cut off from all environmental stresses.
The dopamine kick
The institute, which opened in 2014 and focuses on technology addictions including gaming, social media, pornography and internet use, sees eight to 10 cases of addiction every week, Sharma said.
Most patients are male teenagers or young adults whose parents seek help for their addictions to online gaming, including PUBG, a multiplayer combat game that keeps some kids entranced for 14 hours a day, he said.
A recent study of internet and cell phone use that Sharma conducted in Bangalore found that most people who binge-watch “are able to move away to other tasks,” he said.
But among those 18 to 21 years old, technology addiction is more common among males, Addiction to social-networking sites, like Facebook or Instagram, has pushed thousands of people to seek professional help, added Sharma, who said the numbers drive home the need to raise awareness.
“Addiction to internet is a big thing. It is a reality. It happens a lot with young people, and we see it often,” said Dr. Amit Sen, a child psychiatrist with Children First, a practice in Delhi.
“There are reward systems in the brain. It is a dopamine kick. When you are winning in a game, you get a dopamine kick. If you are doing cocaine, you get the same kick,” Sen said.
The same brain centers stimulated by substance abuse are stimulated by internet addiction, he added.
Sen sees one to two new patients every month who are severely addicted to internet surfing, online gaming or streaming sites, like Netflix and YouTube.
“Sometimes, the parents switch off the internet or disconnect the Wi-Fi, and there is a violent reaction,” he said. “All hell breaks loose.”
Sharma’s mid-20s patient had been coping with the stress of unemployment and other personal issues, he said.
“That was contributing to mild distress in this person,” said Sharma, nothing this is the first case he’s seen of “Netflix addiction.” “These shows/series used to help him out to overcome this mild stress.”
India’s internet boom
Managing any addiction requires building self-control, Sharma said, noting that he’s working on this first step with his Netflix patient.
“We didn’t recommend him not to watch anything because at this moment he didn’t have anything constructive to do,” he said. “We brought lifestyle changes which can bring some significant amount of distraction in him.”
Activities like meditation and alternative hobbies, such as sports or nature walks, are encouraged, Sharma and Sen said.
But the draw of the screen is growing in India, where Netflix launched in 2016. It added three original series this year, and its CEO has said his company’s “next 100 million” users will be in India.
Meantime, streaming service provided by Amazon and FOX’s Hotstar have added to the frenzy.
India also has experienced strong growth in e-commerce and internet access. And rural India, which had been largely cut off from the World Wide Web until now, has gotten connected through cheap smart phones and data plans.