When sport becomes a drug


notEveryone knows someone in our more or less close entourage who goes through extreme competitions, trails, Ironman (226 km long triathlon) or, simply, the excessive practice of a sports. When wanting to practice regular physical activity, when it escapes pleasure and becomes an essential need, it raises the question of addiction. Because bigorexia, sports addiction, is an addiction in the same way as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.

Like all addictions, bigorexia can lead to social isolation, the taking of performance-enhancing drugs, and a compulsive need to exercise. This pathological over-investment in sport has its roots first in the social promotion of performance, the culture of self-surpassing, the culture of the image promoted by social networks. But when practicing sports becomes a daily necessity, sometimes more than a pleasure, the risk of sliding into addiction is real. Athletes do not always realize their addiction to sport and often those around them sound the alarm in front of the increasingly deviating situation and the increase in injuries.

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Ten criteria

Dr. Dan Velea, psychiatrist-addictologist, says that bigorexia is a drug-free addiction, a behavioral habit that consists of excessive practice of physical exercise, without time limits and physical conditions, with the loss of other centers of ‘interest. It describes ten criteria for exercise addiction. The first is the reduction of the repertoire of exercises that leads to a stereotyped and daily practice. Physical activity is invested more than any other activity, the intensity of exercise increases every year. Withdrawal symptoms with depression are present when stopping physical activity, whether voluntary or forced. These symptoms disappear with continued exercise.

In addition, those with bigorexia have a subjective perception of a compulsive need for exercise and they quickly recover their compulsive activity after a period of cessation. And they have a bad tendency to continue an intensive sports practice despite serious physical illnesses more or less caused by sport, so they neglect medical advice. Finally, difficulties, even family conflicts, may arise, linked to the practice of sport, as well as weight lifting with the sole and sole purpose of improving one’s performance.

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A multifactorial disease

Addiction to physical exercise often seeks to improve self-esteem. Dan Velea evokes the possibility of narcissistic disorders, but also the permanent need for new challenges. Finally, for some, it is self-therapy in the face of the pain of living. Bigorexia can have serious effects on social and daily life, entertainment can be almost exclusively linked to sports practice and the whole environment gradually focuses around this center of interest. This phenomenon especially affects runners and bodybuilders, but also top athletes, active and retired.

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And there are factors such as family status, so the prevalence may be higher among widowed or divorced athletes as well as single people and, more broadly, among people who suffer from social isolation and psychological difficulties. Other causes of vulnerability exist such as introversion, anxiety or even perfectionism. The prevalence of sports addiction is 10%.

Withdrawal symptoms

The consequences of the body are many, in women can be seen menstrual disorders and a decrease in bone density, and in all athletes a process of addiction to some neurotransmitters occurred. It is a form of doping with endorphins, serotonin and dopamine and, as with any addiction process, there is habituation that leads to a constant increase in efforts in the hope of feeling the benefits of cerebral neurotransmitters. Without it, withdrawal symptoms may appear: tremors, headaches, irritability or insomnia.

Great efforts are still needed to diagnose individuals suffering from bigorexia in order to better treat them by evaluating the personality profile of sports addicts. More specifically, high-level athletes should benefit from special support in their retraining after stopping competition. Doctor addicts, psychotherapists or sports psychologists are fully trained interlocutors to manage this new form of addiction.


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