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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Can Baseball Become an Addiction?

Experts explore the fine line between being a dedicated sports fan and addictive behavior.
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Attributes of a Sports Addiction

"For most individuals, following baseball is a healthy pastime," says Dan Wann, a professor of psychology at Murray State University in Kentucky and the author of two books on sports psychology. "But for a small number, their interest and involvement become so great it disrupts their relationships and their work efficiency. A die-hard fan may adjust his work schedule so he can attend games, but I've met people who consume 100 hours a week of sports, either by watching TV or logging on to the Internet. It's all they care about. They tend not to have relationships."

Why do people become so obsessed with baseball?

Wann says the explanation lies in two fundamental human traits. We like to belong to a group with common interests, which baseball certainly provides. "Over 90% of fans attend sporting events in a group," Wann says.

Also, sports provide an opportunity for fans to succeed vicariously on the big stage of sports.

"You may not be able to throw the game-winning touchdown pass or hit a game-winning home run yourself," Wann notes, "but you can identify with those who do."

Kevin Quirk agrees, but while writing Not Now Honey, I'm Watching the Game, a book about obsessed sports fans, he identifies another reason.

"Following sports is also a nice way to hide from feelings we don't want to confront about our own lives," he says. "Our job, relationships, financial problems -- when we tune in to games and discuss our team with others, that's all time we don't have to spend on those problems in our lives that are mundane, difficult, hard to change. Unfortunately, sports can work as a convenient hiding place."

Avoidance of Pain

The need to hide from painful feelings is a familiar aspect of addiction, according to Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion. In her book she explains how certain chemicals, when they act on the brain, produce pleasurable feelings. It makes no difference whether those chemicals are ingested, like heroin or cocaine, or produced spontaneously by the brain in response to enjoyable activities such as sex, eating, or being with friends. They will make a person feel good. People who become addicted to those good feelings, however, are usually trying to escape painful feelings as well.

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