Like an addict scheming to get the next fix, Stephanie Brown found ways to watch her favorite television shows.

She’d go to Netflix looking for a hookup. If that didn’t work, Amazon was just up the block. Like all good dealers, the streaming television services know how to get you hooked, even if that means giving away product for free.

For the binge TV addict, free product is good.

“I’m an extreme binge watcher,” Brown says. “I binge everything. I get the free week of Showtime just to watch ‘Shameless’ each year and I have the whole season watched in less then two days – then I cancel.”

You can hardly blame her. “Shameless” is a quirky dark comedy and who can stop at just one episode when William H. Macy is doing his thing on screen?

It wasn’t Macy, though, who really grabbed Brown by the eyeballs and dragged her down into Binge TV oblivion. That was Jackson “Jax” Teller and his band of outlaw bikers roaming California’s central valley.

“The one that really messed me up was a few years ago,” Brown admits. “‘Sons of Anarchy.’ It took me two weeks to watch all seven seasons. I couldn’t wait for season seven to come out on Netflix so I bought it on Amazon and watched it on my kindle.”

It may not sound like much of a problem, this indulgence in television fare. No one ever went off the rails watching “Dragnet” or “Happy Days,” after all, so what’s the harm?

For starters, “Dragnet” and “Happy Days” were available in the form of half-hour episodes and a viewer had to wait a week to watch the next one.

These days? Your friendly streaming services are hooking you up like crazy. There are seven full seasons of “Sons of Anarchy” available on Netflix, for instance. That’s about 100 hundred shows you can watch any time and anywhere you want. There are no commercials. You can pause any time you need to make a sandwich and you can rewind to your heart’s delight.

These days, a viewer doesn’t even need to take any action to move from one episode to the next – just about all of the streaming services offer auto-play, which means you can just sit there, drooling and red-eyed, while the show moves seamlessly from one episode to the next.

For those who lack self-control, it can be a problem.

“I lost 12 pounds because I forgot to eat,” says Brown of her “Sons of Anarchy” bender. “My son didn’t see me for most of it because I holed up in my room because I was on vacation from work for a week of it. I lost sleep which I didn’t notice til I was done. It also put me in a depression for all those reasons and one or two more. I still binge everything, but I’m a bit more aware of what I’m doing.”

Brown isn’t being dramatic here. A study by the University of Texas at Austin concluded that binge-watching television is directly linked to depression, loneliness and a lack of self-control. In fact, the study suggested that the more depressed a person happens to be, the more episodes he or she will watch.

Kind of makes your weird “Three’s Company” obsession back in the day seem mild, doesn’t it?

Brown can take solace in the fact that “Sons of Anarchy” alone seems to be the TV equivalent of crack for a lot of people. Gail Shelley, of Auburn, found that out when she turned a friend onto the show.

“He binge watched the first three seasons. I didn’t hear from him for a week,” Shelley says. “Then he calls me and says come get the rest; I can’t watch any more or I’m going to go knock off a Big Apple, beat someone to a pulp and set something on fire. He tweaked out. Took him damn near three weeks to get right in the head again.”

You have to see the show to understand.

If it was just “Sons of Anarchy,” it wouldn’t be a problem. Bad-boy bikers aren’t for everyone, after all. If you’re not into that kind of thing, you won’t get sucked into your TV like that little girl from Poltergeist, right?

Not so fast, teetotaler. Consider that Netflix and Amazon Prime alone offer about 4,000 shows between them, and that’s not even counting the movies. Then add to that the ever-growing list of competing on-demand services – HBO, Showtime, Hulu, Vudu, Philo and Sling TV, to name just a few – you’ve got an array of product so vast, it’s near endless.

No matter who you are or what you’re into, there’s something out there to caress that part of you that craves excess.

Some shows have bigger hooks than others. “Breaking Bad,” which involves a science teacher turned methamphetamine cook, is known to be trouble for a lot of people. So is “Dexter,” a show about a serial killer who kills other serial killers.

If you’re into women in prison, “Orange is the New Black” is waiting to light up those pleasure centers in your brain, as is the Australian series “Wentworth.”

If you dig dragons and political gamesmanship, “Game of Thrones” might wreck your life. More into zombies and apocalyptic drama? Try out “The Walking Dead” and see if you can stop at just an episode or two.

“For me it was ‘Dexter,'” says Shelley. “I watched the entire series in two weeks. I worked in neurosurgery at the time. . . . I kept asking my surgeons all kinds of wacky medical questions to the point they thought I was thinking about becoming a serial killer. Once I explained I was watching ‘Dexter,’ we had a good laugh. But they still wondered, I know it.”

“‘Stranger Things’ and ‘The Crown,'” says Kelly Briggs, of Auburn. “Both completely different but once you start one episode, it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 a.m. – you have to finish!”

Even those who limit their choices to network television aren’t immune. You think you’re safe, but then the seemingly innocuous BBC comes scuttling in like Walter White to fill your pipe.

“‘Vera,'” says Meredith Kendall, of Lewiston. “I manage to function as a productive member of society, but every night for the last month I come home and watch episodes of ‘Vera’ over and over. She’s a grumpy, introverted, brilliant detective.”

Streaming services certainly brought the concept of binge watching to new levels, but they didn’t start the phenomenon.

“A couple of decades ago before Netflix and whatnot, I think the Bravo channel did a marathon of ‘The West Wing’ on Thanksgiving,” says Tom Reynolds, of Lewiston. “My brother and his wife had it on in the living room all day. Never had seen it before. I was captivated. And after the day spent with them, I rushed home to feed my new-found addiction til the marathon ended later at 11 p.m. My life hasn’t been the same since.”

It can happen to anyone, is what we’re saying. If you’re still not convinced and want to test your own willpower, have a look at my personal list of Binge TV favorites. Just don’t blame me when you wake up all bleary-eyed on the sofa, covered in popcorn and reaching with trembling hands for the remote.

Just one more episode of “Weeds,” that’s all you need. Just one more episode and you’ll quit for sure.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.