TV binge-watching is a mostly harmless addiction

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By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Ever sat down with a stack of DVDs or a queue of online TV episodes and watched till your eyes glazed over? If so, you've indulged in "binge-watching," a mostly harmless, and definitely enjoyable, addiction.

"Experts say TV binging is a lot like other pleasure activities like eating or drinking or sex," NBC's Kate Snow said on TODAY. "As you devour the next episode of your favorite show, your mind releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that causes the feeling of pleasure ... while the forebrain provides checks and balances to guard against overindulgence."

Nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults with Internet access watch TV through subscription services like Netflix or Hulu or other on-demand sources, and 62 percent watch multiple episodes back-to-back.

"Content providers like Netflix are building business models around it, offering original series like 'House of Cards' only available on their service all at once," Snow notes.

Like anything, binge-watching can be abused. "Anything that causes pleasure is potentially abusable when matched up against the ability of your forebrain to regulate it," said Dr. Richard Rosenthal of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York. But unlike truly addictive substances, binge-watching doesn't carry with it the negative consequences of other habits.

And if you invest in the right companies, it can be profitable as well. Stock for both Netflix and Dreamworks recently jumped following the announcement of a new partnership between the two for 300 hours of original programming, which guarantees to be ripe for binge watching, Snow said.