If you struggle with an exercise addiction and a co-occurring disorder, these treatment methods can help.

As with drug addiction, exercise addiction can be treated. The first step is the acceptance that there is a problem: an addiction to exercise. After acceptance of the problem, a person can seek treatment for exercise addiction. Effective treatment for exercise addiction may include psychotherapy (talk therapy) and healthy activities including yoga, meditation and walking.

There are currently no prescription drugs that are designed to treat exercise addiction. Medication may be prescribed to help with symptoms of co-existing disorders, such as depression or anxiety that may lead to exercise addiction.

The main focus on treatment for exercise addiction is to aid in reducing cravings to exercise excessively. There are several therapeutic behavioral techniques that can be used to treat an addiction to exercise.

Therapy for Exercise Addiction

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a person understand their problematic behaviors, recognize specific triggers and develop skills to replace those behaviors with healthier ones. An initial assessment with an experienced mental health professional allows a person to find the best treatment for their needs.

Clients can also benefit from family or group therapy. Family therapy allows the person with the addiction to express their thoughts to their family or loved ones. The family may also express how the condition affects them as well. The inclusion of family members in therapy session can help the person in treatment realize that they have support in overcoming addiction.

Group therapy with other people who are experiencing similar struggles with exercise addiction may also bring a new outlook to their situation. Group-based therapy can help people learn methods of self-awareness from other participants in the group.

Although it is rare, some severe cases of this addiction may require inpatient treatment. These cases usually involve severe malnutrition from co-occurring eating disorders. While inpatient or residential treatment may involve time off from exercise while the person learns to manage their condition, they can learn how to reshape their relationship with exercise in a healthy manner through treatment.

Preventing Excessive Exercising

When a person pays very close attention to their exercise habits, they may unintentionally become addicted to exercise. People may become obsessive about exercising, may exercise too often or may workout when it’s not physically safe for them to do so. It is important to pay attention to signs from your body that tell you not to exercise. Some of these signs include:

  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Having allergy problems
  • Not getting enough calories to burn

Maintaining a healthy weight and setting plans for moderate exercise can help prevent excessive exercising. For example, a goal to exercise for 30 minutes a day for five days a week, as opposed to two hours of exercise every day, may help a person have realistic goals for their fitness.

Identifying and resolving underlying issues and behaviors that contribute to exercise addiction can help prevent over-exercising. Speaking to an eating disorder specialist may be the first step to preventing excessive exercise if you have already experienced exercise addiction, an eating disorder or issues with eating. This team usually consists of a nutritionist, therapist, physician and other people as needed.

Some additional ideas to prevent excessive exercise include:

  • Setting limits
  • Exercise with a friend
  • Take breaks
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Follow a balanced diet and eat an appropriate amount of calories

Treating Exercise Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Sometimes people can experience an exercise addiction and a co-occurring disorder at the same time. Exercise addiction may also be coupled with substance abuse or a substance use disorder (a drug addiction). Performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids, can be overused by someone who is trying to meet unrealistic physical goals. Because exercise addiction is a compulsive behavior, it is common for people who have these behaviors to also partake in other compulsive behaviors such as alcohol abuse or prescription drug abuse.

Treating both a substance use disorder and an exercise addiction simultaneously is important. Only seeking treatment for one of the disorders will merely be a short-term solution to part of the problem. For people who have problems with drug abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders, The Recovery Village specializes in co-occurring disorder treatment with medical and mental health staff.

Exercise Addiction and Eating Disorders

People who exercise compulsively usually find little satisfaction in their athletic successes. Sometimes, compulsive exercise is another way to expel the extra calories from an eating disorder that the client already struggles with. Ultimately, the exercise provides a temporary sensation of power, control or short-term self-respect.

Because of the poor nutrition in clients with exercise addiction and co-occurring eating disorders, they may risk bone damage and loss from osteoporosis. They may also become more prone to stress fractures and other physical injuries, and their injuries may take an abnormally long time to heal.

If you or a loved one is living with a drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring exercise addiction, The Recovery Village can help. People who have addictive symptoms and a co-occurring disorder can receive comprehensive treatment from one of the facilities located across the country. To learn more, call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more

Marilyn Freimuth. “Clarifying Exercise Addiction: Different[…] Phases of Addiction” International Journal of Environmental Research on Public Health, published 2011. Accessed December 2018.

Krisztina Berczik. “Exercise Addiction: Symptoms, Diagnosis,[…]iology, and Etiology” Substance Use & Misuse, published 2012. Accessed December 2018.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.