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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Can Baseball Become an Addiction?

Experts explore the fine line between being a dedicated sports fan and addictive behavior.

Avoidance of Pain continued...

"Behavior becomes addictive because it releases pleasure chemicals in the brain, so in the beginning it's about pleasure," says Pert, "but as time progresses it's about the avoidance of pain. It becomes less about getting pleasure and more about avoiding pain. People who really become addicts have some core traumas."

Fever Pitch, for example, is based on a memoir by novelist Nick Hornby, an obsessive soccer enthusiast who became hooked at the age of 11 after his parents separated. When his father took him to a soccer match, the young Hornby became so infatuated with the game that everything else in life -- school, chums, even girlfriends -- receded into the background. Part of the reason, he concludes, was the connection the game provided with his father.

"Football may have provided us with a new medium through which we could communicate," Hornby writes in the memoir, "but that was not to say that we used it, or what we chose to say was necessarily positive."

Recovering From Addiction

Recovery from any addiction, including extreme enthusiasm for sports, requires withdrawal from the addictive substance or behavior. But for many who live and breathe baseball, that's not easy, especially during the playoffs and the World Series. They tend to deny that they have a problem, and even if they suspect they are taking their enthusiasm too far, they are constantly tempted by unlimited sports offerings on cable TV and the Internet.

"Years ago all you had was radio or TV," explains Wann. "It's hard to get addicted to something that's hard to get.

Even those who admit they have a problem often find that ignoring sports leaves a gaping hole in their life.

"We have a drive to connect with something larger than we are," says Quirk, "and in many ways sports provides that. It's like a spiritual journey. Baseball is not necessarily a god for some people, but it's a part of what satisfies that yearning to be part of something bigger than they are."

Still, withdrawal is possible. Quirk, whose own experience with sports addiction prompted him to write his book, doesn't subscribe to cable television and its endless supply of sports, although he admits to checking up on the Red Sox via the Internet. "If I'm at my desk, I'll take a peek and see what the score is," he says.

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