The Exercise Drug

I think I might have a bit of a drug problem.

My drug is exercise. I covet those endorphin and dopamine highs which are released in those post-workout moments.

My problem is this; when I haven’t done any exercise for a couple of days I start to experience mood swings, feelings of guilt, an inability to concentrate, lethargy, depression, pent up aggression, even feelings of self-loathing.

Is there something wrong with me? Is there a medical term for this condition? Is it some kind of mental illness? Should I be worried?

It sounds extreme but I have often wondered whether or not it is some kind of addiction.

To define addictive behaviour would be to describe it as a compulsive activity even though you recognise the negative physical and social consequences of the behaviour.

Addiction always begins with a voluntary partaking in a substance or activity. Those early explorations can lead to changes in the brain which can then trigger addictiveness. It just becomes impossible to resist the urge.

The nature of addiction is such that you can develop a tolerance which means that you require ever greater amounts to get the same high. With most addictive things – alcohol, drugs, gambling – there develops a pathological desire for every-increasing amounts. Whether or not you become an addict will depend on your genetic make-up – whether you have the genes that determine an addictive propensity.

If you have that propensity then you are always going to be vulnerable to having something which you are dependent upon.

But we’re on about exercise here – that’s good for you!

If you’re going to be addicted to something you might thing that exercise isn’t such a bad option. It does at least keep you fit. Unfortunately, the nature of addiction means that it will take you beyond fitness, and just like all other addictions, will eventually destroy your body and ruin your life.

Undoubtedly, some people do become addicted to exercise. I don’t think I have it that bad. Having thought about it, I don’t think I’m actually suffering from an addiction – it’s more of a craving.

If it was an addiction I am sure it would have developed beyond what I currently have. It would have progressed on to needing exercise every day, perhaps several times a day.

That is when you know you have a problem, when it is out of control, when you’ve done so much but feel you need more. When it becomes insatiable, that’s when you have an addiction, that’s when you are hooked.

In contrast, my affliction is more controlled. I don’t need exercise I just miss it when it’s not there.

That can’t be such a bad thing. I’m doing what my body tells me to do.

I get a buzz from exercise because exercise is good for me. My body is encouraging me to do it. I get the endorphin rush as a reward for good behaviour. Similarly, and this is the issue, a failure to exercise also has an effect, more of an admonishment. This is when I feel bad about myself. This is the stick to the endorphin carrot.

My mood, personality and behaviour are all affected. And that’s when the problem arises, when it has negative consequences, when there is a physical and social impact.

Maybe I just have to accept that, as with many things, if I’m to appreciate the good times then I have to experience moments when things aren’t so good. It’s all relative. I might think I have a problem but, compared to a full-blown addict, I don’t really have anything to complain about.

I suppose, if it was that concerning for me, I would get used to not exercising. I could go cold turkey and not do anything for a while. That might release me from the mental anxieties that I feel whenever I fail to do any exercise.

But that would be so hard for me. I have always exercised. It’s what I do. It’s a part of me, part of my way of life.

I really don’t want to give it up; I really don’t think I could.