Tell me if this sounds familiar: it’s a snowy, Sunday afternoon. A foot of fresh powder is glistening outside, calling your name to come out skiing. You get excited and actually start walking down the hall to find your husband when you stop. Almost as suddenly as the thought of going out occurs, your heart sinks and you turn back around. It’s Sunday. During football season. If you’re going out anywhere, you’re going out alone. Your husband is currently sequestered in the living room with his nachos and PBR, watching the Bears. He won’t be coming out anytime soon.

You narrow your eyes, silently cursing the National Football League. Thanks to them, you have even less time with your significant other. Thanks to them, there’s now football on all day Sunday, Monday night, Thursday, and Saturday. You sigh, wondering if it would be worth it to just stop paying the cable bill and see what happened. Do sports addicts go through withdrawal symptoms?

While it may sound a bit funny and harmless to some, there are plenty of families going through just such scenarios every day and they’re not laughing. Sports addiction can wreak havoc on lives just like any other addiction. Whether it’s fantasy football, real football, soccer, hockey, baseball, or curling, addicts can be found in living rooms all over the world.

There is not a lot of information out there on Sports Addiction. The problem does exist, however, and can be blindingly destructive. Just take the man in China who let his house burn to the ground while he watched the World Cup. He had, at least, the forsight to save his TV when he was finally forced to leave, although he wasted no time searching for the nearest plug in order to continue watching. Don’t worry. His wife and baby made it out on their own.

While frantic World Cup addicts get a lot of press, outrageous fan behavior can be found in any sport, and with the same consequences.

What defines sports addiction is not how much time you spend watching each week, it’s whether or not that time is causing negative behavior in your life. If you’re tuning in to watch games in spite of your wife threatening to leave you, your bills going unpaid, and your laundry piled to the ceiling then you may have an addiction. Whether it’s 10 hours per week or 40, it all hinges on how you’re handling your real life obligations.

Do a Google search on “Sports Addiction” and it will be immediately obvious that very little research has been done on the topic. No statistics come up, and very few informative articles. Most of what does come up revolves around sports gambling, not watching. Mostly what you see are blogs and personal stories of people afflicted with this addiction, or their loved ones seeking help.

There is some useful information out there, however, if you look hard. The question of “why” some get addicted to sports while others don’t is probably the easiest to answer.

It has to do with the pleasure principal common in any addiction. In the beginning of any behavior, whether it’s drinking, shopping, or watching sports, the activity releases pleasure chemicals into the brain, making the user feel good. The more the activity or behavior is practiced, however, it takes longer and longer to get that pleasurable feeling. The behavior becomes more and more about avoiding pain than seeking pleasure.

Sports provide an escape route for many people, enabling them to avoid thinking about problems or feelings they don’t want to confront.

So how do you tell if you or someone you love is addicted to sports? A yes to one or more of these questions might help point towards an addiction.

  • Do you think about sports when you’re supposed to be doing other things, like spending time with your family?
  • Do you rush home to catch games or listen obsessively on the radio while you’re out?
  • Do you feel irritated when family or friends interrupt a game to get you involved with another activity?
  • Do you spend time at work surfing sports sites to stay on top of what’s going on?
  • Do you use sports as a way to gamble?
  • Do you call in sick to work in order to watch games, especially playoffs?

Recovery from sports addiction can be a long process. Getting the person to admit they have a problem is often hard. Once they really understand that their watching is affecting people they love in a negative way, however, steps can be taken to cut back on the behavior.

Unsubscribing to cable will be the most effective, and hardest, step. Kevin Quirk, self-professed sports addict and author of “Not Now, Honey, I’m Watching the Game”, had to do just that. Going cold turkey and making a clean “break” from sports watching will be harder in the beginning, but more successful in the long run.

When the endless supply of games is gone it will be vital to fill that void with something positive. Going out to play a sport in real life is often the next best thing, especially if they can do it with a group of friends. Getting out of the house and participating in real experiences will help curb the need to be involved in sports watching.


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