Home » Sport, when it becomes addiction and obsession: the signs, how to understand it

Sport, when it becomes addiction and obsession: the signs, how to understand it

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Sport, when it becomes addiction and obsession: the signs, how to understand it

In some cases, physical activity is not a hobby or a passion, but a true obsession. Professor Fossati explains the reasons and how to deal with it

Due to its positive effects on the body and the psyche, for many people it is truly pleasant to practice sport. In some cases, not even that rare, physical activity can, however, become a real addiction, transforming itself only into a useful tool for shaping the body according to one’s desires. Those who have this problem raise the bar higher and higher, train more frequently and with ever greater intensity to tone and define their physique, triggering a vicious circle which, if not stopped with appropriate treatments, puts their health at serious risk.

When sport becomes addiction

In amateur athletes, physical activity should contribute to making people feel better psychologically, easing stress and tension, and slowing down the aging of the organism. For some, it can also represent a real passion and be an activity that plays an important role like others, such as work. However, it is essential that sport does not become the predominant element of one’s existence and that it leads to neglecting family, profession, and social life, otherwise, it turns out to be even harmful to one’s health. “Considering sport as an important element of one’s life is absolutely normal, but when passion turns into obsession, and one’s thoughts are almost always directed towards frequent training sessions, then the situation is potentially problematic. In fact, it shouldn’t be sport that provides, through body shaping and weight control, security that you otherwise don’t feel like you have. Physical activity should enrich one’s existence, not become a cage in which to lock oneself up,” observes Professor Andrea Fossati, dean of the Faculty of Psychology at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University of Milan.

Perennial dissatisfaction

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What promotes sport addiction (exercise addiction) is often a particular type of body dysmorphia, called muscular dysmorphia, a problem also called vigoroxia and which is present in the DSM-5, the latest version of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. A percentage of between 2% and 2.5% of the general population suffers from this problem, which is more common among men, and perceives minimal or even non-existent defects as very evident. “Often what is not satisfactory is muscle mass, which is perceived as poorly defined or not voluminous enough. And to ‘remedy it’, we train compulsively without ever being satisfied with the goal achieved. We thus enter a vicious circle that pushes us to train more and more and more intensely and from which it is difficult to escape. In fact, for those suffering from muscle dysmorphia these behaviors are absolutely normal and realizing that you have this disorder is often very complicated” underlines Professor Fossati.

Sport becomes indispensable

In addition to this type of body dysmorphia, the problematic use of sport can be associated with eating disorders. When the dysfunctional approach to sport leads to the use of illicit substances (for example steroids to increase muscle mass), in addition to the damage caused by over-training, there may be negative consequences on health due to the effects of the substances taken. Furthermore, in dysfunctional sport, the inability to train makes you feel bad emotionally, with psychological manifestations that can become similar to those of drug withdrawal. It is difficult for those suffering from muscle dysmorphia to recognize that they have a problem. However, loved ones can pay attention to some elements. The main “warning signs” are the excessive importance attributed to training, which leads to neglecting family, friends, and work, greater attention to calories and weight rather than to athletic performance, and precise rituals linked to physical activity that arises from intrusive ideas, from which it is difficult to free oneself. For any form of body dysmorphia, the treatment most often used is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which in most cases allows you to regain control over your life quickly, in just 3-4 months” concludes the Professor Fossati.


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