Defining addiction

The DSM-V offers eleven criteria to define addiction. Meeting more than one of the criteria could define you as having anything from a usage disorder to a severe addiction. It also recognizes only one behavioral addiction – gambling. Anything else that is behavior-based and that looks like addiction can only be a usage disorder. Some potential addictions are included in the deserves-further-study section. None of the faddictions (I’m assuming I made up that word – it’s either a fad that looks like addiction or a fake addiction – and I apologize if you used it first) that are on my radar are on either list.

The faddiction that’s really got me intrigued lately is exercise addiction. There has been talk swirling around me that I could be addicted to exercise. I imagine that’s like being addicted to oxygen, but if I am truly an addict, isn’t that what I would say? I also say there are much worse addictions, but that is hair-splitting. Addiction, in and of itself, is a bad thing.

I did a little Googling, because Google is my oracle, and found that there are people who treat exercise addiction like it’s a real thing. Those people are not the ones who contributed to the DSM-V, though, so I say pish-posh. Or I would say pish-posh if that was something I ever said. I edited the eleven addiction criteria from the DSM-V they’re focused on exercise and then answered them, just to see what results I would get:

  1. Exercising in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to: I always know exactly what I am going to do before I start. I’m riding ten miles, doing 30 minutes on the stationary bike, following along with a 45 minute long exercise DVD. I never do more than I planned to, because I always plan enough to get me really good and sweaty.
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop exercising but not managing to: I absolutely do not want to cut down or stop. It feels good and makes me happy. Why on earth would I want to stop?
  3. Spending a lot of time doing or recovering from exercise: Yes, I spend a lot of time doing it. Some days, I’ll spend as much as three hours sweating. It’s been a really long time since I’ve needed to recover. If I do something out of my norm and get sore, I just stretch it out next time and it goes away.
  4. Cravings and urges to exercise: Indeed. I love it. Some days, I’ll be sitting at my desk at work and just be having a miserable time. My brain won’t work right, I won’t be able to fix anything, I will be making things worse, people will get on my nerves. I’ll change into my gym clothes, walk over to the gym, and do 10 miles or so on a stationary bike and it’s like all of my synapses reconnect.
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school, because of exercise: See my answer to #4: it actually makes me feel so good that I do more than on the days I work out a lot than on other days.
  6. Continuing to exercise, even when it causes problems in relationships: It hasn’t caused a problem, yet.
  7. Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of exercise: I’m not very social in general so that’s a wash; I work better, smarter, and more professionally if I’m feeling well-exercised; and it’s a big form of my recreational activities. A second major recreational activity is reading and I can do that on a stationary bike. It’s like magic!
  8.  Exercising again and again, even when it puts the you in danger: I’m pretty sure the only danger it puts me in is when I’m bike riding on my real bike and idiot drivers act like idiots.
  9. Continuing to exercise, even when the you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by exercising: This one I don’t even know how to answer. On one hand, my doctor told me that whatever I’m doing is working and that tells me it’s having the exact opposite effect. On the other hand, when I hurt my shoulder and had to do PT for months, I pretty much stopped all other exercise except the PT, which makes this not a match.
  10. Needing more exercise to get the effect you want (tolerance): This one is absolutely true, but it has nothing to do with tolerance. As I become more physically fit, it takes more, heavier, and faster to get to a good cardio zone or to really feel what I’m doing.
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by more exercise: This one is also true. I am grumpy when I don’t exercise. I get tense and tetchy. I want to move, sweat, feel muscles working. One of the other magical things about exercise is that it focuses me. It seems counter-intuitive, I know. You’d think that doing something so repetitive would allow my mind to swirl into stress and circling thoughts, but it has the opposite effect. In fact, it works much like knitting does. Steady, repetitive, rhythmic motion is very calming.

I would have to say that, in the fictional world where exercise addiction is a real thing, I am mildly addicted. I could give it up if I wanted to, but there would be withdrawal symptoms. I would be grumpy and wouldn’t sleep as well. My clothes would get too tight. I’d spend a lot of time sitting around and doing nothing because I’d lack the energy to even lift up my Addi Turbos. Relationships would suffer because I’d be either too grumpy to communicate or so snappy that I’d hurt everyone’s feelings. My house would be dirty and I would owe thousands on credit cards from all of the Ben & Jerry’s purchases.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to do some other stuff and reward myself for ticking things off my list with a second trip to the gym.


This article shows the DSM-V vs DSM-IV criteria for alcohol addiction (all addiction criteria are the same, just change the name of the substance/action)


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