This Is How You Know You're Addicted To Reality TV

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
This Is How You Know You're Addicted To Reality TV
Scary Mommy, PBS, Bravo, Netflix, Amazon, E! and Spiderstock/Getty

I walked into the living room the other day, my back to the television, my son planted firmly on the sofa, and all I heard was “Lil Poopy.” My son was watching a reality television show on Netflix called The Rap Game in which one of the contestants, a 12-year-old aspiring rapper, called himself Lil Poopy.

My son, who is a 13-year-old, watches the most ridiculous shows, like the one mentioned above included. But so do I. One time, I upgraded my Hulu subscription just so I could finish a season of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York, and last month, I signed up for a trial of Hulu Plus just to watch Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta. So in terms of TV preferences, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Why do we obsess so much over reality television? It’s someone else’s messy life we get to gawk at instead of our own, or a means of running away from the news when we just can’t take it anymore. There comes a point, at least for me, when I need to detox from my own reality and delve into the complicated mess of another’s by watching reality television.

As of late, I’ve been obsessed with Selling Sunset (season three comes out on August 7th – you’re welcome). It makes me feel less dirty after watching it, whereas after watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey, I feel like I need to take a shower. Watching someone else’s train-wreck is better than sitting with my own shit, at least for an hour. So, how do you know if you’re addicted to reality television?

Here are a few signs to tell if you’re addicted to, say, Fixer Upper or The Real Housewives franchise or The Circle or The Great British Bake Off or any other reality show.

Your addiction to watching reality television will resemble that of other common addictions like drug, food, or alcohol, to name a few. It may take you away from spending time with your family (and I mean to a higher-than-average degree; because let’s face it, an hour at a time to ignore our families is just what we need once in a while). When you don’t watch reality television, you might find that you’re more irritable and cranky.

When you watch reality television your dopamine levels increase, which is your body’s pleasure receptor. Once it does, your brain wants more and more to feel the pleasure of it all, which is the same effect for me of having potato chips — they are so good and before I know it, I’ll finish the entire bag. Why do you think there are so many seasons of Keeping Up With The Kardashians? We cannot get enough of their drama. When something happens to us in our own lives, we look for a release, a way out. For some, it’s drugs and alcohol and for others, it’s cookies and cake — an abundance of any vice will have dire effects at some point on us in some way.

“The neuronal pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as an addiction to binge watching,” clinical psychologist Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D, told NBC News. “Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.”

We’ve heard the saying “anything in moderation is fine.” I don’t know if I believe that anymore. As I struggle with the siren call of those potato chips, I know that anything in moderation for me does not help me. And it is the same for my son and his addiction to reality television. I truly believe he is losing much-needed brain cells as every second of his reality television watching passes.

So instead of taking television away from him completely, I manage what he watches (mostly). He cannot watch hours on end of Forensic Files (I mean who can?). He’s certainly tried. But this tactic isn’t all bad. Two months ago, he binge-watched Nailed It, so much so by the last episode he wanted to buy a pastry cookbook to “try some things.” I did not let him mess up my kitchen, but I did applaud the fact that he felt inspired to do something which did not involve sitting in front of the television.

I’ve learned while being stuck at home with my entire family, that families are complicated. And sometimes it’s nice to take a vacation from my own, even if it’s just for an hour. I get to hear about someone else’s spilled tea, or how much shade was thrown at whom.

Inevitably, there comes a time when I just can’t stomach the reality show drama any longer. I need to take a break. I need to detox. And I do … only to binge-watch on a “reality television-like” show. Not sure what I mean? Think Workin’ Moms or Fixer Upper or the HGTV show Home Town or The Goop Lab.

Television in and of itself is an escape mechanism, and an escape is something we all need. It is something to make you forget about the present for a little bit, a kind of self-care, a need. For some, that is going out for a run or baking a cake or getting a mani-pedi. But for me — and maybe for you too — it means signing up for another Hulu trial to get my fix of RHOA, and knowing that their lives, so far removed from mine, remind me to be grateful for what I have in my own.

This article was originally published on