STORIES

Football Addiction Is More Serious Than You Might Think

By David Jenison on November 13, 2017

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) is a classification guide utilized around the world since the 1950s, and the 2013 fifth edition made a notable change. The previous iteration put substance abuse and dependence in separate categories, but the current DSM combined the two under a single heading titled Substance Use Disorders (SUD). How does one diagnose a SUD? Medical professionals check to see if the patient meets two or more criteria within a one-year period, and SUD criteria includes the following: 

  • Hazardous use
  • Social/interpersonal problems related to use
  • Neglected major roles to use
  • Withdrawal
  • Tolerance
  • Used larger amounts/longer
  • Repeated attempts to quit/control use
  • Much time spent using
  • Physical/psychological problems related to use
  • Activities given up to use


DSM–5 also expanded the guidelines for recognizing behavioral addictions, or "Non-Substance-Related Disorders" (classified with SUDs under the heading "Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders"). These behaviors can include gambling, internet gaming, shopping, social media and other activities that can produce addictive dopamine spikes. Per the International Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2012, "Behaviorally addicted individuals have certain symptoms and will undergo the same consequences brought about by addiction to alcohol and drugs." In other words, a behavioral addiction can be just as damaging as a substance addiction. 

DSM has yet to define the criteria for behavioral addiction, but watching football (American or European) can easily qualify as a non-substance addictive disorder based on SUD criteria. Consider the following: 

Hazardous use: Do you check scores and fantasy football stats on your phone while driving? Do you engage in excessive alcohol consumption on game day?

Social/interpersonal problems related to use: Does daylong football-watching sessions stress out your husband or wife (i.e., your wife) more than your devotion to superhero movies? 

Neglected major roles to use: Do you leave work early for games or secretly stream them at the office? Have you lied to your significant other to watch a game? Were you late picking up your kids because a game went into overtime? 

Withdrawal: Do you feel antsy when the season ends? Do you feel anxiety if you cannot place a bet or check your fantasy football stats? 

Tolerance: Do you need to watch more football to experience the same satisfaction as before? 

Used larger amounts/longer: Is one game per week no longer enough? Are you now watching multiple teams, both college and pro? 

Repeated attempts to quit/control use: Does anxiety build if you're unable to watch a game, place a bet, check scores or participate in fantasy leagues? Have you broken promises regarding viewing habits?

Much time spent using: Do you watch several games per week as well as Inside the NFL and every Dancing with the Stars episode featuring Terrell Owens? 

Physical/psychological problems related to use: Do you feel depressed when your team loses or misses the playoffs? Is your circumference widening as you down nacho bowls and piss beer watching games from your Eisenhower-era recliner? 

Activities given up to use: Do you regularly dismiss social invites because you want to watch football in real time and not from the DVR? Are activities cut from your daily life once the NFL season starts? 

You might argue, "If I like something, of course I'm going to spend more time doing it," but that's not how addictive diagnosis works. Per the DSM–5, a person need only meet two criteria for a SUD diagnosis. This might seem like a low bar—hence a third of all cannabis users meet the diagnostic criteria for addiction—but many hardcore football fans experience most of the criteria listed above. This suggests football-use (FU) disorder is a more serious issue than cannabis. 

Consider the risks. Checking scores on your phone while driving is more dangerous than driving stoned, and football is a gateway behavior to alcohol abuse, intoxicated violence, gambling addiction, anthem kneeling and, for those who play the game, opioid abuse and traumatic head injuries. FU disorder also correlates with racism and violence. A 2016 study in International Review for the Sociology of Sport found that "eighty-three percent of the [survey] participants stated that racism remains culturally embedded," while a 1998 study found that "groups of young male fans… challenge the assumption that violence is wholly central to the match-day experience." Based on the outfits and antics seen at stadiums, correlations also exist between football and eating disorders, tic disorders and psychosis. 

"What if I simply watch one game per week in the privacy of my own home?" a football fan might ask. America cannot allow it. As with cannabis, politicians cannot take the risk that your casual FU turns into a full-scale FU disorder that burdens society. Think about the children. 

How should politicians respond? 

In theory, the government could simply assist with treatment options for those who develop an FU disorder, but that's not how America operates. Per American values, the government should use cannabis prohibition as a blueprint to shut down the National Football League and roll out FU Prohibition. This means watching, playing or selling access to football games would become a crime punishable by fines and mandatory-minimum prison sentences. FU prohibition should include bans on paraphernalia like team jerseys, posters, footballs and branded beer koozies.  

Offenders should also be subject to the same civil forfeiture laws as cannabis. So if a SWAT team shoots your dog and smashes through the front door to find you watching the Cleveland Browns lose again, law enforcement can confiscate your flat-screen television, computers, six-packs and whatever else they deem associated with the crime, even if they don't charge you with a crime. As with cannabis, asset seizure will motivate policing for profit, which most people see as appalling government-sanctioned theft, but Trump endorses civil forfeiture, and Jeff Sessions is currently supercharging it. Revenue generated from civil forfeiture and fines—along with extra government spending—can finance a new office of football abstinence called something like Football-Use Care for Kids, or F.U.C.K. Off., for short. 

Sure, FU prohibition would merely force football to go underground, and this would spike crime rates, grow the deficit, pack prisons, separate families, reduce tax revenue, take away jobs, increase spending, remove safety protocols, enrich organized crime, burden state budgets, encourage racial profiling, promote policing for profit, create an illicit market, strip personal freedoms, stigmatize football fans, saddle hardworking Americans with criminal records and prevent Mike Pence from taxpayer-funded publicity stunts. That's exactly what happened with cannabis prohibition (read about Pence and cannabis here), and if the federal government has allowed all this to continue for 80 years and counting, prohibition obviously must be working despite all these crippling drawbacks. 

And football is worse than cannabis. Both have potential health risks, but only cannabis has medical benefits. Think of it this way: Cannabis has all of the good of Dr. Jekyll and all the evil of Mr. Hyde, but football is entirely the monster Hyde, the harmful effect of which cannot be measured. It's high time that America take this issue seriously and institute an FU prohibition because good people don't watch football. 

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