Exercise addiction is something that impacts thousands of people, and can be conceptualized like other process and substance addictions. It’s not a formal clinical diagnosis, but rather a behavioral condition often rooted within other issues – such as distorted body image or eating disorders like anorexia. While most adults could benefit from more physical activity, it's also common for exercise to become an addiction that is harmful to our physical and mental health.
Some of the warning signs include:
Only 8% of gym users meet the criteria for exercise addiction. In the classic pattern of addiction, exercise addicts increase their amount of exercise to re-experience feelings of escapism or the natural high they had previously experienced with shorter periods of exercise. They report withdrawal symptoms when they are unable to exercise, and tend to go back to high levels of exercise after a period of abstinence or control. Three percent of gym users feel they cannot stop exercising.
Treatment for exercise addiction is much more complicated than simply cutting back or abstaining from working out.16 Rather, it requires a multidisciplinary approach that addresses e biological, psychological, social, and spiritual domains. As each compromising factor is addressed, the individual becomes better able to adapt and cope while decreasing problematic beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors.
Depending on the individual and the severity of the addiction, psychiatric medication may prove beneficial. The decision as to whether medication is appropriate is made between the patient and prescribing physician (preferably a psychiatrist who specializes in such medications). For those with co-occurring disorders (a combination of mental health and addiction disorders) that warrant medication, it is important to take these as prescribed while informing the provider of all conditions and symptoms present.
Lifestyle changes are necessary to initiate and sustain change. If the decision has been made to participate in treatment, then one will benefit most from a 100% commitment. While treatment may entail more days and hours in the beginning, it will likely decrease over time.