Everything in Moderation: When Physical Fitness Becomes a Substitute Addiction

By Toshia Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

Most of us in recovery are well aware and warned of the dangers of substitute addictions, especially with regard to other substances—i.e., pharmaceutical drugs. The latter is the reason we are responsible for informing our healthcare professionals of our addiction and educating them, if they are unaware of the potential for cross-tolerance. But legal substances—like caffeine, nicotine, OTC’s and pharmaceutical drugs—are not the only issue. Behaviors are—as many of us discover—easily substituted for drug and alcohol addiction, as well.

In most treatment facilities, counselors warn of trading a substance addiction for a process addiction. Process addictions—like sex and gambling—are no less destructive, dangerous or potentially fatal than substance addictions. However, like illegal substances and alcohol, there are moral issues tied to sex and gambling. As such, though they are certainly legal—barring obvious criminal extremes—and socially acceptable activities, they are not necessarily socially encouraged or championed.

However, there are addictive practices or behaviors—i.e., religion, food restriction, working, exercise—that are socially encouraged and often championed in our society. That sense of social approval makes the process of seeing a problem or a need to change very difficult, especially for a recovering addict who has found a socially-approved way to feed their addictive personality.