3% of people addicted to exercise

About 3% of the Irish population suffers from exercise addiction, a leading psychiatrist said yesterday.

Internet gaming, over-exercise, the use of tanning beds and online shopping are new forms of addictions increasingly evident in Ireland. However, one of the biggest concerns among medical professionals is the growth in online gambling.

“Online gamblers can be active 24-7 with instantaneous access to funds until there is nothing left,” said Dr Colin O’Gara, consultant psychiatrist and head of addiction services at St John of God Hospital in Dublin.

“They spend almost everything they have and that presents a huge problem not just for them but also for their families.”

Dr O’Gara was speaking after an all-Ireland conference on mental health heard of the rise of such ‘process’ addictions.

“The emerging process addictions including tanning, exercise, and shopping — particularly online shopping. About 3% of the population suffer exercise addiction, persisting in ultra exercise even when the medical advice is to stop.

“Shopping addiction is relatively rare compared to other emerging addictions but a growing number of people are spending inordinate amounts of time online, buying stuff they don’t need. Salon tanning can be dangerous and the rates of skin cancers are flying up,” said Dr O’Gara.

The conference, which took place in Dublin yesterday, was organised jointly by the Irish Medical Organisation and the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland.

It heard from former Armagh GAA star Oisín McConville on his own battle with a gambling addiction. He told the conference he started gambling at about 14 years of age and by age 17 or 18 he was gambling every day of the week.

“My addiction left me bankrupt financially and took everything from me including my self-respect, my self-esteem, my relationships and my integrity,” he told the conference.

Dr O’Gara, told the conference that process or behavioural addictions were similar to substance addictions to alcohol or drugs, but focussed on behaviours and included gambling and internet gaming.

Dr O’Gara said he estimated that between 5% and 7% of the Irish population could be at risk from addiction to gambling, with an estimated 1% suffering a severe gambling addiction.

He said there was no data on the extent of gambling or online gaming in Ireland and a survey is being organised by St John of God Hospital and University College Dublin.

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