Olympic Shadows: The Feel-Good Addiction Factor

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Olympic Shadows: The Feel-Good Addiction Factor

Why Athletes are more at Danger of the Feel-Good Addiction Factor

Of course we want to feel good—and we have every right to.

Nothing beats that adrenaline rush of being "in the zone" and accomplishing a goal that we have worked so hard for. That feeling of control and integration of our mind and body is truly exhilarating and energizing.

According to Swiss research the "adrenaline-junkie" is real—complete with "an addictive risk-seeking behaviour" that eventually may overspill into everyday life addictions.[1]

So, when does "wanting to feel good" indicate an addictive personality?[2]

What are the warning signs of an individual being well on the way to addiction[3] or already having become addicted? When is the point in time for those surrounding such a person to stop being their enablers?

The question of distinction between addiction or simple enjoyment is quite clear and depends on the answer to this questions: Is the action designed to improve control or to relinquish control?

Unfortunately, with many young, particularly male, athletes this line can become very blurred.[4]

Addiction is Not a Matter of Degree...

Addiction is a Matter of a Principle Mindset!

Our opening paragraph states all the important criteria for us to identify an obvious or a hidden addiction:

  • The individual on the way to addiction craves the "being in the zone" (rush) regularly. But, unlike the true athlete, he comes from an entitlement attitude, i.e. wants to experience the high not work for the rush.
  • The mindset of the (hidden) addict is that of wanting something for free and enjoying the subsequent "ride" i.e. relinquishing to a state of passive non-action reward.[5]
  • The individual looks forward to temporarily or permanently relinquishing body control and wants the substance to do the physical relaxing.
  • The addict looks forward to (i.e. "gets a kick" out of) temporarily relinquishing body-mind integration (desire to dull, not to sharpen mind and focus) – in short, has a need to "take off their mind".  

A Non-Addictive Reaction Pattern

A non-addicted (non-addictive) person will wind down and relax by happily playing ping pong, chess, meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, cooking, being part of lively conversation, etc., or will take a brief half-hour snooze before springing back into action.

An individual who is not addicted does not "need to" repetitively crave or consume one or several of the following actions or substances "to feel good" or "to feel better."

At Risks for Habit/Addiction Forming  

Food in general:

Food certainly tends to make us feel better because it can nourish and energize us. In fact, this is the only action it is designed for.

In fact, as long as our body produces new cells (every 105 to 125 days) these cells need to be nourished. If what we eat is conducive to proper cell development and growth we are in good health—mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Something is wrong with our eating habits, however, when eating makes us hungrier or nauseous, causes diarrhea or constipation, heartburn and fullness, or makes us tired to the point of needing an after-meal nap.

For some reason we then talk about comfort food and, amid high levels of fats, mostly refer to carbohydrates (predominantly from starches and grains) that turn to sugar in the bloodstream.[6]

PS: nobody gets addicted to broccoli, nor to oregano, nor lovage, nor other herbs and spices used for cooking!


Sugar[7] in any form causes numbing of nervous system responses. It also alters the pH value and, over time, acidifies body tissues. Let us not forget: sugar nourishes cancer cells.[8]

Shockingly, recent research reports advocate using straight sugar feeding to newborns for pain control.[9] This "natural" approach may be preferable, but it has not been in use long enough for a sugar-addiction habit forming effect to show up.

Sugary drinks

It is not always only about soft drinks (diet and otherwise); the proverbial "Cookie and Milk" too present a sugar triple-whammy (grain carbs, sweetener and milk sugar).

It is long known that one regular soft drink a day ups the risk of diabetes in women to 80%; while a daily diet drink has been associated with increased vascular risk.[10]

Recent research into the relationship between sugary drinks and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and, in the absence of obesity, diabetes or hyperlipidemia, comes up with the following conclusion:

When controlled for other factors, including dietary composition and physical activity, soft drink beverage consumption was the only independent variable that was able to predict the presence of fatty liver in 82.5% of cases with a sensitivity of 100%, a specificity of 76%, a positive predictive value of 57% and a negative predictive value of 100%. [11]

Sports Drinks

Energy and sports drink grow the more popular the worse our eating habits become, and the more our exercise programs leave to be desired. Drinking a sport drink does not make us sportier or healthier!

...consumption associated with the use of alcohol or drugs in amounts that far exceed the manufacturers recommended amount, could be responsible for negative consequences on health, particularly among subjects with cardiovascular disease.[12]  

Sugars (sucrose, dextrose, etc.) commonly figure among the first four ingredients in popular sport drinks. Other ingredients, while sounding natural and "harmless," may in fact cause severe health issues:

The added mineral salts were designed to compensate for training-induced strain and sweat. However, consuming e.g. potassium chloride from sports drinks over time could cause serious vascular issues in a genetically predisposed individual.


Not as healthy as it is commonly made out to be: More sugar carbohydrates in addition to the barley-derived malt, beer is a known "addictive" to those with non-celiac and/or celiac gluten sensitivity.

Moreover, that beer-belly[13] is not only proverbial, it is a straight forward public advertisement: 'my belly's owner is starting to develop insulin resistance!'


Alcohol use as a "make-feel-good" treat generally is introduced in a verbal context, and thereafter develops into a craving whenever this context is repeated.[14]

Under pressure for performance enhancement along with gambling and cannabis, alcohol abuse has become rather common among young athletes.

Male athlete PES users compared with nonusers reported more problematic alcohol-use behaviors and more alcohol- and drug-use-related problems. The former compared with the latter was also more likely to report past-year use of tobacco products, marijuana, cocaine, psychedelics, and prescription drugs without a prescription. In addition, PES users demonstrated higher sensation seeking, and greater coping and enhancement motivations for drinking and marijuana use than non-PES users.[15]

Let us not forget, that alcohols (ethanol and other forms) are sugars too with all the implications we discussed above and more acute inflammation responses in liver and vascular systems.


Newest research concludes that there may be a genetic link to how we experience coffee. "Coffee consumption is a model for addictive behavior...."[16]

Coffee consumption is affected by both additive genetic and unique environmental factors, each of which plays an almost equally important role." and "Additive genetic factors had the highest contribution in young adults.[17]

Other research has looked into problematic health conditions: 

Currently published data has been stressed that the metyloxantine consumption increases the risk of coronary heart disease, arterial hypertension, arterial stiffness, and an elevation of cholesterol and homocysteine plasma concentration. The acute high consumption may also modulate insulin sensitivity and glucose blood level.[18]

Potentially Risky Social Behaviors

Even love can be addictive. But, there is a huge difference between a sexual addiction and being addicted to the rush of "falling in love." Unlike the rush of sex, "falling in love" happens to you; you do not "will it." Individuals who frequently change love-interests are not in love with working on being in love but are in love with the rush of falling in love. A very similar scenario as those food and drink uses described above.

Pain pills and cannabis[19] or stronger drugs clearly fall under the "desire to relinquish control in order to feel good" or the pain-numbing category of addictive substances—a discussion that goes beyond the confines of this article.

Exposure to cannabis during adolescence is associated with increased risky and impulsive decision making, with users adopting strategies with higher levels of uncertainty and inefficient utilisation of information.[20]

With smoking the scenario is entirely different: few smokers actually expect to feel physically or mentally better after a cigarette. Until the toxins become cell-destructive and addictive, smoking is often but an escape to "legally" be able to take a break. Much of the blame for smokers to continue to their habit falls on co-workers and family members who stamp one who takes a break a "lazy bum" while we excuse smokers with a casual "gone for a cigarette break"...?

The Warning Clues

Warning signals should turn to ORANGE once statements surface such as, "I like how it makes me feel", or excuses such as, "all I want is one bite (or drink, or puff)", "just one", "I am diluting it...", "I don't need it...", "I can stop anytime...", "of course, I am not addicted!".

Comparisons along the lines of "I am taking less than Joe Doe..." or outright requests, "show me the evidence that this is damaging to my health", along with getting upset, mad, hurt or shutting down when called on it, immediately should turn on flashing RED warning lights!

All such statements are a give-away for the typical addiction denial patterns and clearly point to the impaired judgment and the typical invincibility attitude[21] that often goes along with addictive and risky behavior.

Remember, no(!) addict ever(!) admits to his or her addiction unless pushed to the very brink—most certainly not in the beginning stages of an addiction when it rarely even is obvious to those around that person.

Any of the short sentences above are clear indicators. Deflective behavior, hidden excuses or subconscious "guilt" are just that: hidden and/or subconscious. They do not diminish the fact that those around such a person have to get help for themselves in order to stop enabling their loved ones and let them slip deeper.

In summary, there are no "minor" addictions: addictions come with impaired judgment. Experienced outside help BEFORE they become "major" addictions is justified!

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17682798  Rev Med Suisse. 2007 Jun 13;3(115):1536-40. ["Epinephrine-addiction" and risk-seeking behaviour in athletes: what realities?].

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22641960  J Psychoactive Drugs. 2012 Jan-Mar;44(1):1-4.  The process addictions and the new ASAM definition of addiction.

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22420455  J Sports Sci. 2012;30(8):755-66. Epub 2012 Mar 15.  Striving for success or addiction? Exercise dependence among elite Australian athletes.

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20590373  Subst Use Misuse. 2010 Aug;45(10):1525-41.  Cross-addiction on campus: more problems for student-athletes.

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22749794  Pharmacol Ther. 2012 Jun 27. [Epub ahead of print]  Ghrelin signalling and obesity: At the interface of stress, mood and food reward.

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22526128  Eat Weight Disord. 2011 Dec;16(4):e226-35.  Dietary attitudes and diseases of comfort.

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22289979  Curr Diab Rep. 2012 Jan 31. [Epub ahead of print]  Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22339657 Crit Rev Eukaryot Gene Expr. 2012;22(1):17-35.  Carbon source metabolism and its regulation in cancer cells.

[9] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22298719 Crit Care Nurse. 2012 Feb;32(1):61-9. doi: 10.4037/ccn2012912.  Hospitalized infants who hurt: a sweet solution with oral sucrose. 

[10] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22282311 J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Jan 27. [Epub ahead of print]  Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with an Increased Risk of Vascular Events in the Northern Manhattan Study.

[11] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18925303  Can J Gastroenterol. 2008 Oct;22(10):811-6.  Soft drink consumption linked with fatty liver in the absence of traditional risk factors.

[12] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22730801  Rev Prat. 2012 May;62(5):673-8.  [Energy drinks: an unknown risk].

[13] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7485048  Am J Epidemiol. 1995 Nov 15;142(10):1034-8.  Association of the waist-to-hip ratio is different with wine than with beer or hard liquor consumption. Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study Investigators.

[14] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18766982  Neurocase. 2008;14(4):343-6. Epub 2008 Sep 2.  fMRI of alcohol craving after individual cues: a follow-up case report. 

[15] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19895768  J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2009 Nov;70(6):919-23.  Risk profile of male college athletes who use performance-enhancing substances.

[16] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876539  Mol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug 30. doi: 10.1038/mp.2011.101. [Epub ahead of print]  Genome-wide association analysis of coffee drinking suggests association with CYP1A1/CYP1A2 and NRCAM.

[17] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19469749  Addiction. 2008 Dec;103(12):2054-61.  Genetics of coffee consumption and its stability. 

[18] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19999796  Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2009 Nov;27(161):357-61.  [Side effects of caffeine].

[19] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22204498  BMC Psychiatry. 2011 Dec 28;11:202. The association between delusional-like experiences, and tobacco, alcohol or cannabis use: a nationwide population-based survey.

[20] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21938415  Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Jan;219(2):575-86. Epub 2011 Sep 21. Reflection impulsivity in adolescent cannabis users: a comparison with alcohol-using and non-substance-using adolescents.

[21] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683040 J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2011 Jul;72(4):586-91.  Risk of marijuana use in male and female college student athletes and nonathletes.


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