Let’s start by saying that sports addiction is still a taboo topic. Hard to believe? Yes, but sadly it’s the reality.
We could have believed that after all this time, in 2023, everything that gravitates around sports is talked about but not at all. There are still many topics linked to the world of sports that are well hidden from the public’s eyes.
The publication of the book: “Un si long silence” by Sarah Abitbol, the tip of the iceberg of an outrageous disgusting nightmare in the sports field, is just one example of many well-hidden topics linked to the world of sports.
Sports addiction is one of them. Not the worst, nor the best, it is touching athletes from the amateur level all the way to the professional level.
Contrary to what many people think, there is no clear line between amateur and professional levels of sports practice. It’s a wide gradient, hard to define, that fluctuates depending on individuals, sports, environments, countries, cultures, etc.
Sports addiction is one of the two psychological injuries risk inherent to sports:
- Competition disgust
- Sports addiction
Read our dedicated article on competition disgust if you want to know more about it.
What is sports addiction?
Sports addiction is, like any addiction, a mechanism of dependency on something, in this instance, the practice of a sport.
Unlike other addictions (drugs, gambling, sex, etc.), sports addiction is quite hard to apprehend for people that are not practicing physical activities or just casually. For them, being addicted to severe pain and suffering during intense physical effort can look more like masochism, and it can be hard to believe someone would crave that.
This is only partly true.
Biologically, when you frequently force your body to undergo tremendous pain, it creates a cascade of reactions (hormones, inflammation, etc.).
In the hormone’s realm, the very famous endorphins are massively secreted. These hormones give a feeling of pleasure and euphoria.
This is where the chemical pleasure induced by our metabolism comes, and the addiction mechanism starts. If you push yourself far enough, you get the “reward” of pleasure.
The problem is that, like any addiction, you need to push yourself a bit further every time to feel the same pleasure, or at least you are more and more incapable of quitting it.
Why sports addiction is still a taboo topic?
They are many reasons, and here are the three main ones:
- No direct physical damage
- A general context of lack of physical activity
- Could be considered a good addiction
No direct damage
Unlike drug addictions, being addicted to sports does not create direct physical damage to your body.
It is indisputable that smoking kills so as taking heroin or MDMA, etc. On the other hand, practicing sports does not damage your body by itself.
You are not poisoning yourself with toxic substances, therefore, once addicted to sports, the argument for quitting for health reasons doesn’t stand much.
However, the reality is more nuanced. Of course, it will never be any close to drug effects, but sports addiction can still lead to body damage, mainly because of pushing your body over the limit.
The general context of lack of physical activity
Today, especially in developed countries, people suffer massively from being overweight and lacking physical activity.
This problem is not new, it’s been going on for a couple of decades now, thanks to the explosion of junk food, amongst other things, and lately, with the covid lockdowns, it’s skyrocketed.
In this very difficult context of people dramatically lacking physical activities, you can understand how difficult it is to talk about sports addiction.
Could be considered a good thing
That’s maybe the most vicious part of the problem and why people suffering from this addiction can persuade themselves very easily that there is nothing wrong.
In most sports, pushing yourself further means getting closer to “the perfect body” or “the perfect performance” and, even more importantly, for athletes to have a successful career.
Therefore, on top of the quest for pleasure with the massive endorphins release, one could have excellent arguments for pursuing his addiction.
How to identify if you have a sports addiction?
Like any addiction, there are three key concepts:
- Loss of control
- Harm to yourself
- Withdrawal symptoms
The main challenge in the case of sports addiction is that you have to put aside the health benefits of sports and look at it from a neutral perspective.
Consider sports like a drug substance and ask yourself the following questions.
- Can you stop practicing sports immediately and completely?
- When you can’t play sports (because of an injury, for example), are you free of withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea?
- Are you aware and cautious about the injuries your sports practice can induce?
- If so, do you consciously decide at any moment how far you want to push your body?
- Can you contain your sports practice to the desired place in your life?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, you may be starting to fall into a sports addiction.
Get help with your health issues
How to overcome sports addiction
Any type of addiction is fundamentally wrong. That’s the first important point always to remember, especially when it comes to sports addiction.
If we come down to the mechanism of addiction, which is: not having control over doing, taking, or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you, the principal aspect is that you don’t maintain control over the need.
As we are not addicted to breathing air because it’s something vital for our body and not harmful, the key question is: when does it become harmful?
In the case of drug addiction, the answer is easy, as it is already harmful to you at the start. There is no good quantity of heroin to take, it’s just bad, period.
But for sports addiction, it’s much more linked to how and how far you going to push your body.
Of course, to progress in any sport, you need to push yourself beyond your current limits, and this is where it becomes tricky.
The solution is to keep in mind the second aspect of the problem: maintaining control. If, for example, you are a professional athlete or trying to become one, and you push yourself over the limit to achieve your goals, you are not in a sports addiction as long as you can decide, at any moment, to stop doing it.
Of course, here, we are not taking into account the financial stakes, the emotional implications, or the potential social and familial pressure linked to stopping a professional career, we are just talking about your ability to maintain control over the situation.
If you can’t, you are in a sports addiction, and all the world’s excuses won’t change it. Recognizing this is vital, as it is the initial step to overcoming any type of addiction.
As we said there are three key concepts to any addiction: loss of control, harm to yourself, and withdrawal symptoms.
Understanding the depletion mechanism is very important for the second concept: harm to yourself.
Any sports addict is familiar with enduring severe pain. Therefore the concept of damaging the body is heavily skewed because of the “no pain, no gain” rule.
If we return to the massive endorphins release, these hormones are not unlimited resources that cost nothing to be produced. In small quantities, they are very beneficial, but in massive amounts by overstimulation, they will deplete the body’s energy and accelerate aging.
In that scenario, many sports addicts don’t feel it, and a lot of the time, they don’t look exhausted at all. Again here, if we compare to a drug addict, the difference is huge.
A drug addict will quickly look like hell, while a sports addict can look strong and healthy.
This is the beauty and the curse of sports, it can make someone look very healthy when he is not. It is only when they are far down the line of their addiction that aging will catch up on them.
In conclusion, even if a sports addict might not realize that he is damaging his body because of the special relationship he has with pain and pushing his body over the limit, it is vital to bring awareness to the depletion mechanism that occurs silently but nonetheless is a form of “harm to yourself”.
Our recommendations for overcoming sports addiction
As we just mentioned, the initial step is recognizing and admitting the addiction. Only after this initial step can we consider starting the process to overcome it.
This process requires time and commitment. Although the initial step can be instantaneous, the rest will not be done in a day, week, or month.
In order to have the maximum chances of success, this process, on top of time and commitment, will need comprehensive care based on:
- Identifying and addressing all the underlying issues related to the addiction
- Helping the body recover from the withdrawal symptoms
- Implementing a healthier lifestyle to prevent relapse and other addictions
For doing this, we recommend getting the help of a holistic natural health expert, who will be able to have a global approach but personalized to your situation. He will be able to guide you through this entire process and adapt accordingly to achieve the best results possible.
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