Addicted to Coke or Bike?
My husband is a real type A driven guy. He recently completed a stay in rehab for a cocaine addiction that had developed over the last couple of years. He is doing really well and we are all very proud of him. One of the things that really helped him stay clean after rehab was lots of exercise. Whenever he was having trouble dealing with the way he was feeling he’d hop on his bike and spin out 30 or 40 or 50 miles and he’d come home feeling a lot better.
I am not sure if I have a legitimate concern here, but it seems to me now that he is getting addicted to exercise. I am not even sure if this is a bad thing or not, but he has gotten really intense about getting his daily training time in and he is spending a lot of hours each day out riding. He has never been a real in-moderation kind of person and now when he can’t get his riding time in, for whatever reason, he gets really cranky and bad tempered and hard to be around. It’s like the exercise has to come first and no matter how valid the reason for not doing it, like when he had the flu a couple of weeks ago, he just can’t accept it in his head. Is this something I should be worried about? I guess being an exercise fanatic is pretty far preferable to being a cocaine addict, but there is just something compulsive and fanatical about the way he is doing this that sets of some alarm bells in my head. Should I be worried or should I just let him do what he needs to do?
Dr. Ari Hahn Says ...
The short answer is yes, the long answer is no.
From what you write it does seem like he is getting addicted to exercise. That can be a real problem, although like you say, it is certainly better than being addicted to drugs. I think you need to define what the real issue is for you or for him.
It sounds like you have an issue with the idea that there is something in his life that takes over his life to the detriment of other important things like family and other health issues. If that is the problem that you are seeing or feeling you need to evaluate if it is a problem for him and does he see it as a problem. If you both agree that his exercise has gotten to the point that other important aspects of his life are being damaged then you have a beginning of a way to deal with it. If it is only a problem that you perceive then you will have a hard time getting him to change and you might need to just think that exercise is better than drugs, so let it be. At least till he sees it through the same lens that you do.
The other question is if he is really happy with this change and what it has become. He might be. But if he is just being satisfied that he has gotten out of a hellhole of cocaine addiction, but not really found a satisfying life, then that is the direction you might want to explore with him. I have found that people who move from one addiction to another (especially a "healthy" addiction) are still looking for a place in life where they can flourish, grow, excel or dedicate themselves. People need to build on their strengths while conquering their weaknesses. Addiction (even as a medical question) is treated as a weakness and overcoming it is not a strength building process. If you look at the people who do really well after addictions, they seem to put a great deal more energy in some fulfilling project (be it family, religion, skills, helping others, achievement of some sort, etc.) You might want to begin to explore with him ways of having a truly happy life now that he is no longer addicted (ignoring the idea that he might be addicted to bicycling since he won't see it that way). Look at the literature about flourishing and positivity or get a life coach who understands addictions.