Dealing With Substitute Addictions: Excessive Exercise


Our Focus On Health

Those of us in recovery from chemical dependency begin to place a high priority upon our health, and exercise is known to contribute to our well-being. Some treatment facilities have exercise rooms, because it is an activity that has usually been neglected during the active phase of our disease. Some of us, however, get carried away and pursue exercise with a vengeance. We may be looking for the runner’s high, a flood of endorphins that produces a feeling of pleasure and euphoria when we get our second wind. We may also enjoy the admiration by others as our bodies begin to take shape. Or we may prefer the social isolation that occurs during the time we are exercising, for it enables us to avoid being confronted by others.

The Desire For Health Turns Destructive

Whatever the motive, exercise can become destructive to our physical and mental health when it consumes large amounts of time and effort. It may appear to be a benign activity, but the inner Addict may use it to maintain its grip on us. To prevent this from happening, we need to listen to others who may observe that our exercising has become excessive. And we can learn just how vulnerable we are to finding excuses for our self-indulgence. The inner Addict does not disappear just because we have become chemically sober.

The Inner Addict Sneaks Back In

At this point we already know how acting out under the influence of the inner Addict results in great suffering and harm. We may have learned from professional therapists and from people in recovery how to abstain from our primary addiction. But the addictive side of our personality, the inner Addict, still has some tricks up its sleeve. It sneaks into our lives by sweet talking us into some supposedly harmless behavior. Now what are we going to do?

Desire For Inner Peace

We know from our primary addiction that we have a craving to get high. Getting sober from our favorite addiction does not abolish this craving. We will seek another way to satisfy it, because our craving is so intense and so deeply rooted in our psyche. Eventually we learn that our efforts to get high are not worth the trouble. The high doesn’t last very long, and we get hurt in the hunt. And so we realize we need to let go of this craving and replace it with a desire for peacefulness.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.


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