Sports Addiction

There are many health benefits to engaging in sporting activities. It is viewed as a positive hobby by medical practitioners who extol its health benefits while often overlooking the dangers of practicing sports excessively and of exercise addiction. It’s difficult for people who’ve never heard of it to understand the idea that sports addiction is real. Compulsive exercise compounds an already warped need to continue exercising heavily, and can create difficulties in many areas of your life.

A young British woman, who shared her addiction story, mentioned that she felt anxious whenever she missed a workout session. She went to the gym every day (even when she wasn’t feeling well), and by the time she was 26 years old, she had survived persistent exhaustion, two herniated discs, and a stress fracture.

William Glaser, a sports psychologist, was the first person to notice the difference between negative and positive effects when participating in sports. Positive activity has a beneficial impact on your mental well-being and physical health too, and is characterised by a passion for sport. Negative addiction describes the compulsive need to exercise regardless of your personal health, relationships, and other interests in your life.

What is Sports Addiction?

Usually, the word ‘addiction’ is reserved for substances that are known to be bad for you, such as addictive drugs and alcohol. Addiction necessitates alcohol and substance abuse, but you might be surprised to learn that more doctors and researchers are using the term “sports addiction”.

Many famous athletes have spoken about the adrenaline rush they get when they work out, and the pleasure they receive from doing sports. The “happiness hormones”. such as endorphin and dopamine are released when you complete a workout session. The “high” effect is the same as that experienced by alcoholics and individuals with substance use disorder.

Sports addicts also share similarities with other addicts. The stress you put on your body doesn’t give you sufficient opportunity to heal or recover. When sport is an addiction, the intensity, frequency and duration of your training sessions are detrimental to your health. Some addicts experience heart attacks and osteoporosis when they overlabour their body and mind.

Apart from the obvious physical harm caused by sports addiction, there are psychological issues resulting from the abandonment of your responsibilities and relationships in favour of sports. Sports should be a part of your life, and they’re recommended by health organizations, addiction specialists, and physicians as a means of improving mental and physical wellness. However, it’s important to find the balance between positive sports activity and negative activities that affect your wellbeing.

Signs You Are A Sports Addict

  • You exercise every day, even to the detriment of your physical health
  • Your daily life is affected by sore muscles from overworking your body
  • You think of sports every time you eat
  • You feel an intense fear of an injury scare because it prevents you from engaging in sports
  • You schedule your day around sports
  • Most of your friends are addicted to sports
  • You can’t imagine living without sports
  • Your relationships suffer because you spend all your time at the gym or sports centre
  • You’re always injured because of the strain on your body, which tires down your system
  • You’re self-critical and overly competitive
  • You feel guilty when you skip the gym
  • You moderate your emotions through sports
  • You’re obsessed with your physique and/or weight

Types of Sports That People Can Get Addicted to Taking Part in or Watching

Major League Football: Americans love football. Many people who’re addicted don’t realise they have an addiction, because for them it’s not an issue. It’s not the amount of time you spend watching football but the negative impact it has on your relationships with others and real-life obligations. Behavioural signs include missing family events to watch the game, thinking about football all the time, and feeling depressed when your team loses.

Basketball: For many, sport is a temporary escape from their problems. You never miss a game even when you have more important tasks to complete. Your mind is always on your team’s fantasy draft pick, you obsess about hearing the latest news, and you feel an adrenaline rush when your team wins but you get depressed when they lose.

Baseball: Baseball is a major sport in the United States, viewed by millions of people. One addict who talked about his addiction stated that he was unable to think of anything else or have conversations that weren’t related to baseball. For most, it’s a healthy activity, but for others, it’s an obsession that disrupts work efficiency.

Gym: While exercise is not included as a legitimate addiction, a growing body of addiction experts and sports psychologists agree that it’s a serious condition. Like other behavioural addictions it is characterised by a tolerance to longer durations or high-intensity workouts, continuance, loss of control, and spending too much time engaging in gym workouts and aerobics.

Soccer: Most sports addicts are gamblers and soccer is no different. It shares the same characteristics with other sports addictions and could have a negative impact if you stop seeing it as just a recreational activity and allow it to dominate your moods and emotions.

How People with Sports Addiction are like Drug addicts

Sports are a significant part of life in the 21st century. Participating in sports boosts self-discipline, physical health, and develops the spirit of teamwork. People who engage in sports enjoy an active lifestyle, improved muscular fitness, increased life expectancy, and lower risk of mental health disorders such as depression, and physical issues such as osteoporosis.

However, those who go beyond the norm and engage in sports because they simply can’t live without them, or obsess over their next workout session, might be sports addicts. You never fully recover from injuries, you’re on the field training for hours after everyone has left, and your body suffers from the stress it is constantly put under.

The psychological damage created when you’re dependent on sports is a huge problem, because you no longer enjoy sports for the simple rewards, but the need to achieve and maintain perfection. Sports addicts experience a “high” from working out and build a tolerance to that feeling. After a while, you need longer sessions to feel the original effect of satisfaction, and you experience anxiety and depression when you go only a short while without working out.

You prefer training to spending time with friends and family, your work efficiency suffers, and you’re always preoccupied with thoughts of sports. Too much sports and exercise is harmful, and you’ll require psychotherapy to understand, and treat, the underlying reasons for your addiction. Many gym junkies are walking a fine line between addiction and devotion, and obsessive devotion could either lead to extraordinary personal achievements or self-harm.

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The Link between Professional Sports and Addiction

A few similarities between substance addiction and sports addiction include:

Most of your friends are sports addicts: Substance users tend to have the same cycle of sticking with drug-using friends. Individuals obsessed with sports befriend supporters of their favourite team or spend their time on forums and groups discussing transfer news and starting lineups. Outside of the gym, their friends are limited because their only interests are sports-related.

You can’t stop after you’ve passed the stage of tolerance: Substance abuse is characterised by a lack of control. Fitness abusers can’t stop or cut back on their workout sessions once they’ve built up a tolerance for high-intensity workouts. You only keep increasing the intensity and duration of each session until injury forces you to slow down.

You feel euphoric and high on sports: Just like energy drinks, sports improve your mood, due to the release of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine in the brain’s neural pathway. This effect leads you to crave more of the  feelings of happiness that the chemicals create, and increase the duration of your runs or gym sessions. Taking a day off to rest is not for you.

Physical Side Effects

  • Some of the physical side effects of sports addiction include:
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Strained tendons and torn muscles
  • Damage to your joints
  • Irregular menstrual cycle in women
  • Increased risk of exercise-related injuries
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, agitation and anxiety when you don’t exercise for a full day

Social and Psychological Side Effects

Many exercise addicts are unable to maintain a healthy relationship with a partner or friends due to their preoccupation with either watching sports or participating in sporting activities. You’ve seen friends and family upset because you’ve stopped attending family functions to stay home to watch a game, go to the gym, or go to the stadium on match day.

Students and workers who are sports addicts will skip work and classes to exercise. It also affects your ability to hold down a job or make ends meet and it’s difficult to maintain your sports addiction and have a normal social life. You find it hard to workout with others because they affect your usual routine and you would rather isolate yourself when you exercise.

When accompanied by low-self-esteem, sports addiction can lead to emotional distress. You experience feelings of anger, guilt, irritability, sluggishness, and anxiousness when you’re forced to rest.

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How to Spot a Sports Addict

Warning signs of someone who is addicted to watching sports include:

  • A bad result on game day ruins their mood for the entire week
  • They get lost building fantasy teams and find it hard to separate reality from fiction, along with spending too much time on fantasy websites affects work efficiency and impedes on family time
  • They’re willing to break the bank to attend a sporting event
  • Obsessive gambling habits such as putting their home or car up for sale and taking on bets they can’t afford
  • There is a void inside them that is only filled when they watch sports
  • They’re so passionate about their team that get into fights on stadium grounds with fans of the rival team
  • Their obsession with watching sports affects their personal relationships
  • They’re so obsessed with collecting jerseys and memorabilia from their favourite team that they’re willing to max out their credit card to buy an item they want
  • They can’t imagine a life where they’re not watching sports

Warning signs of someone who is addicted to performing sports include:

  • They continue working out even when they’re in physical pain
  • There is no rest day in their sports schedule. When you’re addicted to the endorphins from working out, you’ll need to workout to such an extent that you feel good about yourself by reaching your increasing fitness goals for the day
  • They don’t know the difference between normal and extreme fitness
  • They’ve lost interest in other activities and turn down opportunities to spend time with friends because they want to go to the gym

The Causes of Sports Addiction

According to a recent French study, 42% of people who participate in sports are at risk of sports addiction, both men and women. Three percent of British citizens are addicted to sports and the fitness industry continues to grow, with gym centres recording increased memberships and profits.

Few people view sports addiction the same way they view substance abuse and alcoholism. For them, it’s a sign of dedication and discipline that should be encouraged not critiqued. According to a consultant psychiatrist, Dr Ian Drever, most sports addicts don’t seek psychiatric help for their problem, but would rather turn to a nutritionist or physical trainer.

Addiction is fueled by the praise and admiration you receive at the gym, as compared to the resentment and stigma substance abuse recovering-addicts suffer. There’s a growing obsession to be “sporty” and thin. This is usually a symptom of deep-rooted mental health issues, past trauma and/or other unresolved problems.

Dr Drever also posits that most sports addicts are covering up psychological distress with their sporting activities. Sports such as running, triathlon, boxing, and CrossFit have been fashionable and popular at one time or another. When a sports addict gets injured, they take painkillers or narcotic opioids to help them continue their workout sessions because they can’t bear the thought of rest.

The Dangers of Sports Addiction

A former sports addict, who was obsessed with running, said that she suffered physical health issues due to her addiction. She pushed her body beyond its limit, and weakened her immune system and joints through illness and injury. After ten years of being an addict, she didn’t see any visible gains, but instead retained body fat because of excessive cortisol (a stress-related hormone).

If you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and get into sports, your body is at risk due to the amount of training you may feel a compulsion to do. The exercise controls your life, not the other way around. Women who are addicted to sports are in danger of experiencing an irregular menstrual cycle, eating disorders, osteoporosis, body image disorder, exercise dependence, and amenorrhea. Recurrent injuries weaken the muscles and take longer to heal because the body doesn’t receive the sufficient rest required to heal properly.

The risk of sports addiction is more pronounced in extreme sports such as whitewater rafting, skydiving, mountain climbing, base jumping, surfing and similar. For most addicts, it’s the risk of injury, and possible death, that draws them to repeatedly take part in these activities. The adrenaline rush and excitement you feel from taking a plunge, thousands of miles in the air, makes you feel exhilarated and reinforces the need to repeat the activity for the adrenalin.

Sports addiction is separated by want and need. When you’re consumed by an activity, it’s not pleasurable anymore, and you need professional help before you do permanent damage to your health.

Sports Addiction and Substance Abuse

According to the partnership for Drug-Free Kids, sportspeople are more prone to substance abuse than the general population. They feel an overwhelming pressure to be the best among their peers, and so may turn to performance-enhancing drugs to boost performance. According to the British Medical Journal, one in three GPs have met patients who abuse substances to improve athletic performance. Common substances used include narcotics, cocaine, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and human growth hormone.

For teenagers, participating in sports is a way to get college scholarships, improve physical fitness, teamwork, discipline, and perseverance. Sometimes, the pressure to win places pressure on teens, especially when they are dealing with family issues, a busy schedule at school, social pressure to fit in, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Some students turn to drugs to gain an edge over the competition and get the scholarship they need to attend university.

Major risk factors are associated with contact sports such as ice hockey, soccer, baseball, and wrestling. Substance abuse and alcoholism are common among teenagers who start using these substances at an early age and continue into adulthood. These sports teach athletes that pain and violence are a part of life and the risk they take on the playing field spills over into their personal life.

Effects of Sports Addiction on the Brain

Full contact sports like boxing, rugby, and American football are notorious for their life-threatening and traumatic head injuries. In 2013, professional American footballers received around $765 million in settlements after suing the NFL over concussion-related brain injuries.

A Boston University study revealed that repeated blows to the head cause degeneration of the part of the brain that regulates impulse control (the frontal lobe). This leads to suicidal ideation, emotional instability, depression, and extreme mood swings. Individuals going through any of these symptoms might use illicit substances to self-medicate the problem.

Treatment Options for Sports Addiction

There are treatment options available for sports addicts. You need to identify if you have a primary or secondary sports addiction to properly address the root cause of your addiction. Once the root problem is identified, a therapist and medical doctor will evaluate you for any conditions that should be addressed first for safety and health reasons. These might include co-occurring disorders and medical conditions that could have an impact on treatment.

A medical professional might prescribe medication that treats specific symptoms such as depression, anxiety, panic disorders, and eating disorders. Normally healthy habits like participating in sports are not easy to treat because they should be a part of your daily life. Abstinence from physical activity is not an option because your body needs it to stay healthy. Your therapists will help you understand the difference between normal and harmful sports activities.

Sports Addiction Treatment

Behavioural addiction and substance abuse have similar treatments in rehab. There are currently no approved standard medications for this treatment, so your therapists will focus on using behavioural therapies to help you identify all your triggers and address them in treatment. If you have any co-occurring disorders such as body image issues, eating disorder, depression and anxiety, hey will be treated alongside the sports addiction. Treatment involves psychotherapy, education, life skills lessons, and alternative therapy models.

Withdrawal Symptoms

As a sports addict, you will likely become extremely anxious when you don’t get the exercise you want. You might wake up earlier than usual to go the gym or leave work early because you didn’t work out in the morning. When you can’t work out, your palms might become sweaty, and you start to feel restless and guilty because you didn’t attend your usual practice.

Sports psychologists speculate that some addicts become physically ill if they go too long without working out. While others end up returning to the original addiction they tried to curb with sports. Other withdrawal symptoms include depression, panic attacks, mood swings. and irritability.

Sports Addiction Drug Options

There are currently no FDA-approved medications for treating sports addiction. However, doctors might prescribe medications that treat specific symptoms such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and mood stabilizers.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps you recognise negative thoughts, emotions, and behavioural patterns that lead to sports addiction. Working with a therapist, you’ll identify your triggers and develop healthy coping skills for dealing with said triggers and other forms of stress.

Family Therapy

For some teenagers, addiction stems from issues at home. Family therapy addresses all possible issues at home that might have contributed to the addiction. Working with your therapist, the sports addict and their family members learn to improve communication, parental styles and learn skills to help the addict avoid relapse.

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Inpatient and Outpatient Programs

Rehab centres that specialise in treating eating disorders might also treat sports and exercise addiction. You need rehab if you are already exhibiting several warning signs of sports addiction. Inpatient programmes are well structured and highly regulated. You will be required to live in a therapeutic community where doctors and therapists are always available to supervise treatment and ensure you make a full recovery from addiction. This is the recommended treatment if you have a primary sports addiction and co-occurring disorder.

Outpatient treatment is recommended for secondary sports addicts who don’t have a co-occurring disorder. The program lasts ten to sixteen weeks and is not as structured as an inpatient programme.

Aftercare and Support Groups

Gamblers Anonymous: For those who are addicted to betting on sports events

Fantasy Football Addicts Aupport Group: For individuals who spend all their time playing fantasy football

Addict to Athlete:  A non-profit support group that helps sports addict replace the harmful behaviour that leads to addiction with positive behaviour. Here you’ll learn to balance your work-social life and enjoy sports again


Is Sports Addiction real?

Sports addiction is completely real. When you do any activity often enough that it leads to a negative impact on your life, it has become an addiction. While not currently recognised in the DMV, sports addiction shares similar characteristics with substance addiction.

Will My Insurance Pay for Rehab?

Unless you’re suffering from substance abuse as a result of the sports addiction, most insurance companies may not cover the cost of sports addiction rehab, as it is not currently listed in the DMV as a mental health issue.

What are Sports Addiction Symptoms and Signs?

Signs of sports addiction manifest in two ways. There are individuals who are addicted just to watching sports and others are addicted to  exercise participating in and sporting activities. Signs of a sports addict include being obsessed with their weight, being self-critical, constantly getting injured, and an obsession with sports.

Those who are addicted to watching sports spend most of their time at work thinking about match days, lineups, and fantasy football. They are unable to balance relationships with their sports addiction. The result of a match will determine their mood for the rest of the week and they easily become angered or get into fights to defend their team.

How is Sports Addiction Diagnosed?

There is no official diagnosis for sports addiction. However, if you tick yes for most of the warning signs mentioned, you might be a sports addict.

What is the Treatment for Sports Addiction?

If you suspect your teenager or loved one is addicted to sports, and is using drugs to boost performance or cope with pain from workout sessions, they need substance addiction treatment. Call a free drug addiction helpline and a drug counsellor will help you get started. There are inpatient and outpatient rehab programmes that help to identify and treat the underlying reasons for sports addiction and help sports addicts go back to living a normal, healthy life.

Can Sports Addiction be Prevented?

Education is key to preventing sports addiction. You need to know the risk factors that might push someone into becoming substance abusers. Familiarise yourself with the warning signs of sports addiction and learn to find the balance between healthy workouts and a normal life.

What are the Complications of Sports Addiction?

Individuals who are addicted to sports are at an increased risk for substance abuse. Women might experience menstrual disturbances, due to unhealthy body mass, and some may also develop body image issues.

Are Support Groups Available for Sports Addicts?

Depending on your type of addiction, you may want to  attend fantasy football addicts support groups or gamblers anonymous, advocates for injured athletes or addict 2 athlete support group for sports people who are dealing with addiction.

What Research is Being Done on Sports Addiction?

Currently, researchers are trying to determine the exact causes of sports addiction. However, some scientists believe that the release of endorphins and dopamine that comes with workouts can lead to sports addiction.

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