Addicted to exercise?

Hooked on the runner's high? New research suggests that the body may release chemically "addictive" drugs during exercise. Tufts University psychology professor Robin Kanarek put rats through a training and diet regimen and also injected them with a drug used to treat addiction in humans. From National Geographic:
When injected into human addicts, the drug (naloxone) induces withdrawal symptoms that include writhing, chattering teeth, and swallowing movements...

They found that the most hardcore rat runners showed the greatest degree of withdrawal symptoms, while rats that did not have access to wheels displayed fewer withdrawal symptoms.

Kanarek is not worried about mass exercise addiction in people.

"While we saw naloxone-withdrawal symptoms in active rats, these symptoms were not as severe as those typically seen during morphine withdrawal–suggesting that exercise is not as addictive," she said.

What's more, the addictive effects of exercise could be used in a positive way. "We think a bright side to our findings is that exercise may be one way to actually help [drug] addicts recover," she added.
"Exercise Can Be Like Heroin, 'Gym Rats' Show"


  1. Okay, two things:

    1) Comment #1 from KQuaker looks a lot like spam. Only 1 comment on that account, and the link is to a “free” ablounge?

    2) The one thing that doesn’t appear to be considered in this research is the irritation factor of non-exercise addicts when exercise addicts are around. Those guys can be seriously insufferable when you want to be lazy!!

  2. @mellowknees HAHAHA!

    My friends hate me! I’m always trying to get them to join me.
    I am an addict.

  3. Wow, non-automated spam. Would someone please erase his comment, his account, ban his IP, and mail him a cattle prod with faulty wiring?

  4. This whole exercise addiction argument seems to eternally chase its own tail. There’s no disputing that iIf any non-smooth muscle moves repetitively and rigorously for about twenty minutes, the body responds by releasing endorphins…. nature’s morphine. So, people who take 20 minute walks feel better than those who stop at 15 minutes. The repetitive motion is the key; the exercise doesn’t have to be very strenuous. Twenty minutes on a variety of weight machines won’t create the buzz because you’re changing muscle groups. The repetition must continue for 20 minutes, like running on a wheel in a cage. Rats (including gym rats) learn that endorphins wear off quickly, and so the only way to prolong their buzz is to just keep pushing and pushing and pushing…long after normal critters quit. So, what’s new about the National Geographic article? Anyone who owns horses knows the animals engage in compulsively repetitive movements (called cribbing). Veterinarians have long known that Nalozone blocks the “addictive” reward the horses are seeking. OK, now they’ve found the same thing in mice. I’m just saying…

  5. Mod note: We know that #1 is spam. Occasionally the system gets a crush on a comment and won’t delete it for several days.

  6. Good there are at least a few things that are biochemically enjoyable and good for you.

    The trick is to get people to hit the road for those first few half-hour spurts. Just a taste. Make it a free one. That’ll have ’em coming around for more…

  7. Great. Another excuse fat lazy couch potatoes can use to defend their self-destructive behavior. So what if the body habituates to the endorphins produced by regular physical exertion? Calling it “addictive” is absurd: if exercise was really addictive the exercise infomercial wouldn’t exist–seen any good heroin infomercials lately? Do drug dealers fill your inbox with spam? Of course not. Why? Because they don’t need to drum up business: Heroin. Is. Addictive.

    If exercise was even half as addictive as heroin or morphine gyms wouldn’t be packed in January and deserted in July as these so-called addicts lapse into nonaddiction. It all sounds a bit too sensationalistic to be credible.

  8. I’m an addict. I’m so ashamed. Too addicted to even consider narcanon. If I stop doing O2 for even a minute, I turn red and get really uncomfortable. Two – three minutes without it and I pass out on the floor, involuntarily doing more and more until I regain consciousness an embarrassed mess. I even do it at work and around family. They’re too mortified to say anything, but I know they’re judging me.

  9. Morphine, heroin, opium, and endorphins all attach to exactly the same neuroreceptors in the body (picture an electrical plug fitting into an outlet). Drug addicts use so much of the synthetic stuff that their body slows its natural production of endorphins. As a result, when a chemical junkie kicks, they experience a much longer and harder fall than endorphin phreaks. This makes, chemical addiction seem much more serious just because withdrawal hurts so much more. Meanwhile, those behavior addicts quietly engage in long, long, long periods of repetitive behavior. The repetition releases the endorphins. Then, the sustained nature of the behavior keeps new endorphins coming as the old ones are nabbed by reuptake enzymes. Hey, anyone who needs to have their neuroreceptors plugged to feel good is pretty much screwed. When an opiate hits those receptors, the body doesn’t know or care whether it’s endo- or exo- in origins. It becomes an easy way to make pains and worries appear to disappear. If they’re lucky, it ends with a twelve step program.

  10. Exercise addiction may not be as instantly lethal as, let’s say, an addiction to heroin, but it can be just as detrimental in the long run. You may be functional as an exercise addict, but it can still negatively affect your day-to-day life. For instance, an exercise addict would chose the gym over hanging out with friends. They get irritable, irrational and depressed when they miss a work out. And can we say, exercise bulimia (working out intensely after eating)? Not to mention that disordered eating can be tied to exercise addiction as well. As with other addicts, exercise addicts have some serious mental instabilities. This is definitely a problem, people.

  11. The problem is that people get addicted to specific exerdrugs, like running or tennis. If they don’t do it for an hour or two every day, they’re not happy. After about 20 years, I get them in my yoga classes. They’re easy to recognize because they can’t bend or straighten their legs.

    1. What about the ones who get addicted to yoga?

      I’m predicting the rise of elastic surgery, where rich Angelenos have their joints reworked so they look better in yoga class.

  12. News flash: things necessary for survival are addictive. The humans for which they weren’t addictive chose not to do them and died.

    Best example: kids. Mothers have an irrational, addictive attachment to being ripped open, slobbered on, crapped and pissed on, cried at, and awakened by their kids. The ones that didn’t have such an addiction said “Now way, this sucks,” didn’t have kids, and the ones that did passed on the genes for enjoying the pain and humiliation of children.

    Recall that people were hunter-gatherers for millions of years, and have only been agriculturalists for perhaps a few thousand. Genetically we’re still hunter-gatherers, and that means running around looking for food.

  13. The usual gateway exercises like jogging and racquetball haven’t worked on me. Is there anything harder I can try to fast-track my addiction?

  14. This is not funny. This is is a serious addiction. Just last weekend I was kicked out of the bar after being caught doing squat thrusts in the bathroom.

  15. I knew this. I’m a recovering exercise addict myself. Haven’t moved in two years, 40lbs the better. Taking it one day at a time.

  16. I knew this. I’m a recovering exercise addict myself. Haven’t moved in two years, 40lbs the better. Taking it one day at a time.

  17. I am definitely an exercise addict- I pretty much wore out my knee before I was 30 years old because of it. I still bicycle commute 17 miles roundtrip everyday, and that is definitely addictive- no road rage, no parking problems, etc.

  18. No road rage from cycling? Where do you live and how did you train the drivers to leave you enough space on the road?

  19. Exercise may be addictive because certain motions do release endorphins. But if you’re too lazy for a workout, try some other endorphin releases. Skin-twisting massage (Vietnamese styles specialize in this), severe nail biting (ow ow OW!), hair pulling (I can’t even spell Trichotillomania), self-cutting (pardon me while my stomach turns), sex (no comment, there might be kids browsing), and even severe suntanning (is somebody cooking bacon?). As random as those activities sound, they all disturb the integumentary system (sorry, you’ll have to look that up if you’re curious). That system both produces and consumes endorphins. That’s like giving a moonshine still to an alcoholic. Speaking of endorphin producers, the AA Big Book says alcoholism itself is an allergic reaction. Guess what gets released in huge amounts during an allergic reaction of any kind? If you guessed endorphins, you get a gold star. These troublesome proteins account for more than exercise addiction. The little troublemakers are everywhere.

  20. I would have to agree with the whole “Exercise is Addictive” statement – I train twice a day, 6 days a week, and would train more but I have my job… oh, and my muscles/joints/bruises tend to scream in all manner of pain if I don’t rest for a little while at least :-)

    If I don’t train for a few days, I get cranky, short-tempered and generally depressed – this happens when I get injured… and that used to be a fairly regular occurance.

  21. I didn’t get addicted per say. But when I practised fencing two days a week I did get mild a endorphin withdrawal in the form of a general uncomfortable feeling in my body and slight depression if I missed a practice. I was baffled by how missing a practise session could affect me so until someone explained to me about endorphins.

  22. Oh, with that said. Endorphine addiction is hardly bad for you. Fencing was fun, and I got more stamina and generally felt better than I did and do these days when I don’t do any sport. If a slight endorphine addiction can keep you going that is a good thing. It’s just that it takes a while to get addicted, it won’t happen until you are used to the regular exercise. That’s how it was for me at least.

  23. Funny how the word “addiction” has morphed in usage over the past century or so.
    It has now come to increasingly denote “physical addiction”, ie. through bio-chemical action, the person or organism begins to require the substance (or substance-generating activity, as here) for “normal function”.
    In contrast, in older books (pre-1800), one can find these uses: “minds addicted to religion”; “mercenaries addicted to rapine”.
    My guess is the limitation on the use of the term, its reduction in scope, has to do with the use to which the word has been put by politicians in their justifications for harsh penalties for drug use. In order to lessen the reach of those obvious and vile restrictions on liberty of the Citizenry, others seek to keep the bounds of liberty enlarged, by restricting the scope of the term “addiction”: for “addiction” per se is, apparently, an Evil requiring “action” by the police…
    Just don’t ask those people whose minds are addicted to religion to agree with the latter point….

    As a further example of changing or limiting the definition of the word ‘addiction”, the tobacco lobby long advanced the idea that nicotine was not addictive, since it did not alter consciousness. A rather odd addition to the definition…but again, an attempt to preserve liberty (that is, the tobacco company’s liberty to profit from selling physically addictive poisons to other people, in this example).

  24. I believe that the word “addiction” was first coined in ancient Roman courts. If a citizen owed their neighbor a debt and could not pay it, the judge would declare the citizen “addicted” to the neighbor. Poof! In one move, the free Roman became a slave and the neighbor took total ownership of them. Apparently this was a permanent and legally binding condition. If you ran away from your owner/neighbor, Roman soldiers would drag you back. That legal term fell out of use long ago. But the word has re-emerged from the mist of history and too describe someone who has become a slave to drugs. BTW: Today, our contemporary medical professionals eschew all use of the word addiction. The term “addiction” is too medical for psychologists and too psychological for medical docs. So they both reject it. It’s funny and sad how quickly discussions of addiction descend into hand-wringing debates over the precise definitions of the word. Meanwhile, unwitting addicts keeps screwing up their lives, families, communities, etc.

  25. Yes,indeed.
    And those unwitting addicts “screwing up…etc” up, are not just addicts of drugs, but also of video games, of religion, the internet, television, violence, sex,etc, etc…

    Addiction, to me, implies an imbalance. Not a dependence, physical or psychological: but an imbalance. For dependence, alone, upon anything, does not necessarily lead to harm.

    But US drug laws and policies seem to make it unavoidable, eh?

  26. Yeah, new confirmation for old stuff. Positive Addiction by William. Glasser was a pop account from 1976, so the research must have been older than that.

  27. When we hear someone claim they’re addicted to something, why shouldn’t we suspect they’re imagining the whole thing? The old AA codgers claim that alcoholics suffer an “allergy”, not an addiction. They’re not using a metaphor. Some people are indeed allergic to the hops, malts, and other allergens found in alcohol. And allergens trigger floods of endorphins. So the barfly who seems glued to the bar may not be addicted to alcohol. He’s probably allergic to the stuff, but it gives him a really good endorphin buzz. The guy on the next barstool can’t see why the sot doesn’t just quit. “If I can quit, you sure as hell can!” he humphs. But if you’re not allergic, there are no endorphins. No endorphins means alcohol is just alcohol… which makes most people uninihibited for a few minutes, then become largely depressed or sleepy. That old bastard may be drinking himself to death because he has a heroin-grade addiction to endorphins. Before you scoff at the endorphin angle, ask an allergist or a gastroenterologist. This is not news to them.

    1. The old AA codgers claim that alcoholics suffer an “allergy”

      It’s a joke. I’m allergic to alcohol; if I drink it, I break out in handcuffs.

  28. A thought occurs: a “ham-fisted” Cartesianism may clarify this term “addiction”.

    That there are addictions of the mind: and then there OTOH are addictions of the body: sometimes intertwined, but not necessarily so.

    That the State has a legitimate interest in the prevention and limitation of the one: but not in the other.

    Marijuana, which does not cause any physical, bio-chemical dependence in the human frame, is at worst but an addiction of the mind; akin to, perhaps, religion, or to the reading of novels, or to the following of any particular mode of life; and that the State ought, therefore, have no say as to what the Citizen may do in such a regard, as being an intrusion upon basic human liberties of thought and conscience.

    Concerning those substances which OTOH addict and enslave the body itself: at that point, and not before, does then the State have a proper role to play (as it always has taken this role, with all things merely physical), in the regulation and restriction of those things.

    Hardly an original thought: IIRC Christ said somewhat similar, about the difference between the spiritual and the worldly…”render unto Ceasar, etc.”

  29. A lot of people scoff about the “allergic to alcohol” thing. It’s just wishful thinking, right?

    Drunks aren’t really allergic and their craving is all in their heads, right? Who ever heard of people craving what they’re allergic to, anyway?

    Just for laughs, try Googling the words “allergy” and “craving” and see how many hits pop up.

    a) 3?
    b) 300?
    c) 30K?
    g) 3,000,000+?

    Not very scientific, but I’m just sayin’.

  30. I suspect I have become slightly addicted to endorphins because I get this same feeling when I push myself a little during exercise. Sure, it’s led me from getting off the couch to jogging, but.. is it healthy? I guess a little doesn’t hurt anyone.

Comments are closed.