Watching sports can be fun for people who love it, but some fans may become so fixated on the sport it threatens their relationships and quality of life, an expert warns.
Josh Klapow, a University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist in the School of Public Health, pointed out that there is a big difference between a dedicated fan and a sports addict.
"It's not how much time you spend watching the game that matters, it's whether or not that is causing negative behaviours in your life. Whether it's 10 hours per week or 40, the issue is its effect on your real-life obligations," he explained.
Klapow established some guidelines to help people figure out if their love of sport is just a fun pastime or an unhealthy obsession. The following behaviours may signal that a fan is losing a grip on reality and becoming addicted:
Thinking about sport while doing other things.
Becoming irritated when a game is interrupted.
Missing important family or other events to watch a game.
Becoming depressed, angry or violent when a certain team loses.
Klapow concluded that someone who is demonstrating these types of behaviours should seek help for their addiction before it damages their relationships with people they care about. As with any other addiction, people who observe these behaviours in someone, he noted, should not be afraid to speak up about the problem.
"Ultimately this is a habit that needs to change, and moving forward means changing your behaviour a little bit at a time," said Klapow.
Anyone trying to manage an obsession with sports can take a number of steps to help curb their behaviour, he suggested, including:
Keep a weekly log of time spent watching or listening to sports or playing them online.
Limit exposure to sporting events to one per week for two hours or less.
Ask family and friends to weigh in on decisions about whether or not to skip sporting events that conflict with important occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries and other gatherings.
Do something else. Rather than watch or listen to sports, exercise or socialise with family or friends.
Seek help from a mental health professional to help manage an obsession with sports.
"Watching sports provides an escape route for many people, enabling them to avoid thinking about problems or feelings they don't want to confront. But the longer it goes, the stronger it gets and the more relationships it will ruin," concluded Klapow. "Seeking professional help can change this."
The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse provides more information on the science of addiction.
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