Dealing with Substitute Addictions: Television


It may seem odd to consider watching television as a substitute addiction, but too much of this activity will have severe effects. First of all, it acts like a narcotic, in the sense that we may use it to avoid facing our problems. It can easily become our favorite escape device. In addition, it exposes us to a lot of advertising that we imagine will salve our wounds, stimulate our desires, and satisfy our needs. However, the commercials seek to convert us into impulsive consumers, and we may become brainwashed by their ceaseless repetition. Furthermore, television pretends to keep us informed about the important issues of the day while it subtly diverts our attention onto superficial matters. Surveys show that people who get their news primarily from television are inadequately informed.

An examination of the type of TV shows we like to watch can provide us with insight into our preferences. For example, some of us enjoy situation comedies, because they demonstrate the foolishness of taking ourselves too seriously. But they may incline us to dismiss our own difficulties with a laugh. Some of us prefer mystery shows, because they challenge our mental abilities to figure out who did it by using the clues provided. We could turn this skill to our own case, if we have any energy left to do so. We need to study ourselves to understand our true needs and motives.

In addition, some of us enjoy reality shows, because we can watch ordinary people deal with obstacles. And yet we ourselves are confronted with obstacles all the time, and we need to exercise our own ingenuity to solve them. In general, we can benefit by questioning ourselves about the reasons we are attracted to certain types of TV shows.

We cannot afford to overlook how passive we become when we devote enormous amounts of time to watching TV. Simply turning off the television before we would watch it to amuse ourselves is not going to work for long. We need to develop a replacement activity, such as a creative outlet or a way to help others, something healthy and constructive, if we want to break our dependency.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.


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