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Riding high: Can cycling be addictive?

One of the many music books I got for Christmas this year was David Buckley’s excellent 2012 biography of Kraftwerk. Given the media shyness of the band since their official formation in 1970, I was surprised that there was enough material to even fill a chapter, let alone a whole book. However, I read the whole book by December 27th and one of the things I found most fascinating was the claim that the two key founding members of the band – Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider – were obsessed with cycling. Cycling was so much a part of their daily lives from the early 1980s that – according to the other members of the ‘classic’ line-up, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür – it partly explains (along with the band’s perfectionist nature) the relatively low number of albums they released between 1981’s seminal Computer World and the present day. Even the most casual of Kraftwerk observers are probably aware of the band’s love of cycling as they released a single in 1983 about the Tour De France, and then 20 years later released their  2003 album Tour De France Soundtracks (their most recent album of original music).

People often talk about the ‘cycle of addiction’ but rarely about ‘addiction to cycling’ except occasional academic references in relation to exercise addiction (including some papers I have published myself). For instance, Dr. John Kerr in his 1997 book Motivation and Emotion in Sport speculated on the likely meta-motivational style of those people who are addicted to exercise. Dr. Kerr noted that it was the endurance type exercise activities (e.g. running, cycling, swimming, aerobics and weight training) that are most often associated with exercise addiction and dependence.

David Buckley devotes a whole section in his Kraftwerk biography to Hütter and Schneider’s obsession with cycling. He notes that “there is something compulsive about cycling; and this is not simply based on anecdotal evidence”, something with which I would concur based on the small amount of scientific evidence examining various types of exercise addiction. Most of the section on ‘cycling addiction’ relates to Hütter (although Schneider appears to be as equally enthusiastic about the joy of cycling). Buckley reported that:

“Ralf Hütter…the man-machine became the human bicycle. There is no denying that cycling was, and indeed still is, very important for Ralf Hütter…It is probably inaccurate to describe his passion for cycling as a hobby…it became more like a second (unpaid) job…The main problem with the [cycling] was, firstly, it took a huge chunk out of the conventional working day, and secondly, the effect of the work-out on the motivation of the individual”.

As Buckley then noted, after six hours cycling, the last thing Hütter wanted to do was work when he finally got to their infamous Kling Klang studio. He then went on to note:

“As [Hütter’s] fitness levels increased, he began attempting harder and harder climbs, longer and longer routes…[Hütter] estimated that at his peak, he was cycling around 200 kilometres a day. It had been reported that on occasion on Kraftwerk tours, the bus would drop [Hütter] off around 100 kilometres from the venue, and [Hütter] would complete the final stretch on his bike”.

To those of us who work in the addiction studies field, this description of engaging in ‘harder and harder [cycling] climbs’ by Buckley appears to be an example of ‘tolerance’ in all but name (i.e., the needing of more and more of an activity to gain the desired mood modification effect). Ralf Dorper, founder member of another of my favourite 1980s bands, Propaganda, said that in the mid-1980s:

“The only chance to meet Kraftwerk…would have been at one of these cycling shops. But then [Hütter and Schneider] got more and more into it, and they went to the really specialist shops outside of Dusseldorf…They would probably easily do 50 to 100 kilometres a day”.

Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür noticed his band members shift their focus away from music and on to cycling. He said that his colleagues became “fanatics” and “insane” about their cycling, and he also claimed in an interview with Buckley that cycling was an addiction and “became a kind of drug” for Hütter. Buckley also recounts Hütter’s cycling accident that left him in a coma. The most amusing anecdote was that on coming out of his coma, Hütter’s alleged first words were “Is my bike OK? What happened to my bike?” (something that Hütter denied in a June 2009 interview with British newspaper The Guardian). Hütter doesn’t deny his cycling passion and noted in one online interview I came across that:

Cycling is the man-machine, it’s about dynamics, always continuing straight ahead, forward, no stopping. He who stops falls over. There are really balanced artists who can remain upright at a standstill, but I can’t do that. It’s always forwards”

If newspaper reports are to be believed, Hütter may not be the only pop musician with a cycling addiction. An article in an October 2009 issue of The Guardian claimed that Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet was “now a road cycling addict” based on his new-found enthusiasm for cycling. The article then went on to talk about Ralf Hütter and that “his obsession with [cycling] reportedly became so all-encompassing it threatened the group”.

Arguably the most infamous ‘cycling addict’ was the 55-year old American man ‘Tom’ from Mt. Pleasant (Texas) who appeared on the US television show My Strange Addiction who cycles eight hours a day, seven days a week (over one million miles in a 25-year period). According to the show, Tom rides his bike at home, outside, and even in his office as he works. It was also revealed that Tom was in constant stress from his cycling, and that his constant cycling had made it painful for him to stand, and can barely walk. Alternatively, there is also an amusing 2010 article by Diana North listing ‘26 signs of cycling addiction’ (e.g., ‘Have you seriously considered building a second bike room addition to your home?’, ‘Are there more than three bike-related tattoos on your body?’, ‘Do people leaving messages on your voicemail start with “I know you’re on your bike right now, but…?”, etc.). There are also a variety of online accounts (mostly by cyclists) questioning whether their passion is an addiction such as an article by Scott Saifer in the magazine Road: The Journal of Road Cycling and Culture, an e-zine article by Nebojsa Djekanovic, and a personal account by ‘Doug’ who runs the Cycle Hub blog).

Although there is a fairly established scientific literature on exercise addiction in general, there is almost nothing on cycling addiction specifically (although I did come across one online article where a professional cyclist had adapted the Internet Addiction Test for other cyclists to self-diagnose whether they are addicted to cycling). A fairly recent 2007 book entitled Exercise Dependence edited by Drs. John Kerr, Koenraad Lindner and Michelle Blaydon had about 20 mentions of cycling in the context of exercise addiction (although again almost nothing specific). Most of the references were in relation to cycling being one of the endurance sports that can also be engaged in individually, and that individual endurance sports are more highly associated with exercise addiction.

There are also occasional references to triathletes (who run, cycle and swim) being dependent and/or addicted to exercise. There was also reference to research examining eating disorders among different professional athletes (as there is a relationship between exercise addiction and eating disorders that I reviewed in a previous blog). Kerr and colleagues quoted a group of 1990s studies by Dr. J. Sundgot-Borgen showing that the prevalence of eating disorders among elitist cyclists was 20% compared to cross-country skiers (33%), middle and long distance runners (27%), swimmers (15%) and orienteers (0%). Interestingly, one of the traits that appears to be associated with exercise addiction is perfectionism according to a 1990 paper by Dr. Caroline Davis that appeared in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (which when linked back to Ralf Hütter’s experiences in Kraftwerk made me raise an eyebrow).

There is also some preliminary evidence that professional cyclists may be more prone to drug addictions than other groups of people. Although I was unable to fully read a French paper by Dr. J.C. Seznec in a 2002 issue of the Annales Medico-Psychologiques Revue Psychiatrique, the author claimed that sportsmen were specifically vulnerable to addiction. Seznec – a psychiatrist and sports doctor – highlighted there are some factors (predisposing factors, initiation factors and maintenance factors) that explain the association. Seznec concluded that:

“These addictions seem to be in direct relation with the brutal transformation that high-level sport towards professionalism suffered. This study makes us conclude that the practising of a professional sport predisposes to the development of an addiction and that it requires a specific preventive help”.

I’m certainly of the opinion that it is theoretically possible to be addicted to cycling, although the number of people genuinely affected is likely to be small. This is one area that I might consider doing some personal research into – especially if it meant I could interview the members of Kraftwerk!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 631-646.

Berczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Exercise addiction: Symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance Use and Misuse, 47, 403-417.

Buckley, D. (2012). Kraftwerk Publication. London: Omnibus.

Davis, C. (1990). Weight and diet preoccupation and addictiveness: The role of exercise. Personality and Individual Differences, 11, 823-827.

Griffiths, M. D. (1997). Exercise addiction: A case study. Addiction Research, 5, 161-168.

Griffiths, M. D., Szabo, A., & Terry, A. (2005). The exercise addiction inventory: a quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(6), e30-31.

Kerr, J. H. (1997) Motivation and Emotion in Sport: Reversal Theory. Hove: Psychology Press.

Kerr, J.H., Lindner, K.J. & Blaydon, M. (2007). Exercise Dependence. Oxford: Routledge.

Seznec, J. C. (2002). Toxicomanie et cyclisme professionnel [Drug addiction and professional cycling]. Annales Medico-Psychologiques Revue Psychiatrique, 160, 72-76.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1993). Prevalence of eating disorders in female elite athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 3, 29-40.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1994). Eating disorders in female athletes. Sports Medicine, 17, 176-188.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1994) ‘Risk and trigger factors for the development of eating disorders in female elite athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26, 414-419.

Sundgot-Borgen, J., Torstveit, G. and Klungland, M. (2004). Prevalence of eating disorders in elite athletes is higher than in the general population. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 14, 25-32.

Terry, A., Szabo, A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2004). The exercise addiction inventory: A new brief screening tool. Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 489-499.

Ashes to ashes: Does “cremainlining” really exist?

I’m starting today’s blog with a news story from May 13th 1993 that occurred in Boynton Beach (Florida, US) and can be found on the Snopes.com website:

“When Nathan Radlich’s house was burgled, thieves left his TV, his VCR, and even left his watch. What they did take was ‘generic white cardboard box filled with greyish-white powder’. (That at least is the way the police described it.) A spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale police said ‘that it looked similar to cocaine and they’d probably thought they’d hit the big time.’ Then Nathan stood in front of the TV cameras and pleaded with the burglars: ‘Please return the cremated remains of my sister, Gertrude. She died three years ago. Well, the next morning, the bullet-riddled corpse of a drug dealer known as Hoochie Pevens was found on Nathan’s doorstep. The cardboard box was there too; about half of Gertrude’s ashes remained. And there was this note. It said: ‘Hoochie sold us the bogus blow, so we wasted Hoochie. Sorry we snorted your sister. No hard feelings. Have a nice day’”

This story is arguably the first instance of “cremainlining” (the snorting of someone’s cremated ashes). However, the myth-busting website Snopes says that the part about ‘cremainlining’ is simply not true. In fact, Barbara Mikkelson, author of the online article for Snopes said that no dead body turned up on Radlich’s doorstep, and no note was left by the people who bought the “drugs”. Mikkelson also says that even the reference to Radlich appealing on television for the return of his sister’s ashes was made up just to tell a better story. Fast forward to London (UK) seven years later when this gem of a story did the rounds in British newspapers such as The Sun.

“Cocaine-crazy thieves tried to snort powder they found in an English housewife’s living room, not realizing it was the ashes of her dead dog, according to a British press report…The burglars thought they had hit the jackpot when they saw the powder marked “Charlie” – slang for cocaine – in a dainty ceramic pot on pet-lover Dee Blyth’s mantelpiece, said the report in The Sun. But they were unaware the pot was an urn and the “drugs” really the remains of her beloved Newfoundland Charlie, who died in 1997. A policeman called to investigate the break-in at Chadwell Heath fell about laughing when he saw the burglars had arranged the ashes in cocaine-style lines. “I’d love to see their faces when these thieves realize,” said Blyth. “It was horrible knowing they were in my house, but the idea of them trying to get high on a dead dog certainly made me feel a bit better. ‘I didn’t realize the significance until the policeman started laughing’”

While the burglary did indeed take place, there is actually no evidence that the thieves engaged in any unintentional cremainlining. More recently, in April 2007, Keith Richards, the guitarist in The Rolling Stones, was interviewed by the New Musical Express (NME) about his lifelong drug exploits. In that interview he was asked what the strangest thing he had ever tried to snort. He replied by saying he had snorted his father Bert’s cremated ashes mixed with cocaine. He told the NME: “My dad wouldn’t have cared” and then added that the snorted mixture “went down pretty well, and I’m still alive”. However, in his 2010 autobiography (“Life”), Richards reveals the truth behind the whole story (pp.611-612) which was a lot less ‘rock ‘n’ roll’:

“After having Dad’s ashes in a big black box for six years, because I really couldn’t bring myself to scatter him around, I finally planted a sturdy English oak to spread him around. And as I took the lid of the box, a fine spray of his ashes blew out onto the table. I couldn’t just brush him off, so I wiped my finger over it and snorted the residue”.

On the 15th December 2010, five teenage burglars in the US broke into a woman’s house in Silver Springs (Florida, US) and all snorted what they thought was cocaine or heroin but were in fact the ashes of a dead man and two Great Dane dogs. They stole jewelry, electronic equipment, and two urns (one containg the dead man’s ashes, and the other the cremated remains of the two dogs). Waldo Soroa (aged 19 years), Matrix Andaluz (18), Jose David Diaz Marrero (19), and two juveniles who could not be named were eventually arrested on charges of burglary and grand theft.

Earlier this year, it was alleged that a 51-year old man in Florida (why does Florida seem to be the epicentre of many of these cremainlining stories?) – Joseph Pointer – stole a dead woman’s ashes and told the dead woman’s mother that he was going to snort the remains. Pointer was living with a woman called Angela Speakman who shared the cremated remains of her sister (who in 2008 had been killed in a car accident) with her parents. On moving out of the house he shared with Speakman, Pointer stole the ashes. He then drove past Angela’s mother’s house allegedly shouting  “I’ve got your dead daughter’s ashes and I’m going to snort them”. Pointer was arrested before he could snort the ashes but was charged with grand theft and jailed.

Just to finish with, I did mention in a previous blog I wrote on people’s fascination with death, the story of the woman who was “addicted to eating the ashes of her late husband” from the US television documentary series My Strange Addiction. The woman in question lost her husband following a fatal asthma attack and allegedly developed “a strong compulsion” to keep his ashes by her side at all times that then developed into eating the ashes. She says the ashes eating began when she was first transferring her husband’s cremated remains from a box into an ornamental urn. She accidentally got some of the ashes on her finger and “not wanting to just brush them off, licked them off, starting a habit that has become compulsive”. At the time of the television programme being recorded (and despite the ashes tasting horrible) she had been eating the ashes for two months and had consumed approximately six pounds of the ashes. In this particular case, the behaviour appears to be an unusual type of pica (i.e., the behaviour in which individuals eat non-nutritive items or substances) and which in some cases has been shown to be compulsive. Other online commentators have speculated that the eating of her husband’s ashes is a way of symbolically holding onto her husband in the easiest way possible.

So what are we to conclude? Certainly ashes have been ingested by a few loved ones, and there appears to be some evidence that a few thieves may have snorted cremated human remains mistakenly thinking it was cocaine during a burglary (a case of ‘crim0-cremainlining’ perhaps?). However, there doesn’t seem to be a single case of anyone doing it because they got any pleasure or enjoyment out of it.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Daily Mail (2011). Dumb, dumber and dumbest: Burglars snort ashes of a man and two dogs after they mistook them for cocaine, January 20. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1348820/Burglars-snort-ashes-man-2-dogs-mistaking-cocaine.html

Geekosystem (2011). Woman is addicted to eating the ashes of her late husband. August 9. Located at: http://www.geekosystem.com/woman-eats-husbands-ashes/

Herzberg, R. (2012). Man steals dead woman’s ashes and threatens to snort them. The Dream Demon, April 17. Located at: http://www.dreamindemon.com/2012/04/17/joseph-pointer-steals-dead-womans-ashes-threatens-snort/

Mikkelson, B. (2012). Cremainlining. Snopes, July 2011, Located at: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/cannibal/cocaine.asp

MSNBC News (2007). Keith Richards says he snorted father’s ashes, April 4. Located at: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/17933669/ns/today-entertainment/t/keith-richards-says-he-snorted-fathers-ashes/

Richards, K. (2010). Life. London: Orion Books.

Zipadeeday (2000). Thieves snort the line of a dog, November 6. Located at: http://www.zipadeeday.com/story/17/thieves-snort-a-line-of-dog/

My Strange Addiction: The wonderful world of the weird

In a previous blog, I examined a case of so-called ‘hair dryer dependence’. The source material for this blog came from one of the people who had appeared on the TLC (The Learning Channel) documentary television series My Strange Addiction. Immediately after I had written the blog I was emailed by one of the researchers on the show asking if I could help getting people on the show for the next series (Season 4).

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, My Strange Addiction is a US TV documentary show that features stories about people with unusual behaviours. Very few of the behaviours they have featured so far would be classed as addictions in the way that I define them. However, some of the behaviours are genuine obsessions and/or compulsions while others have not been the focus of any kind of medical and/or psychiatric diagnosis.

So far, the show has featured people with various obsessive-compulsive disorders (some of which I have examined in my blog) including body dysmorphic disorder, pica (the eating of non-food such as paper, mud, glass, metal), exercise bulimia, trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking), thumb-sucking, furry fandom, excessive laxative use, urine drinking, paraphilic infantilism (being an adult baby), and dating cars.

MY STRANGE ADDICTION: A CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS

If anyone out there thinks they have an interesting story that My Strange Addiction might like to hear about, the show’s producers would really appreciate any help they can get in reaching people who may be good potential candidates for their TV show.

  • Are you currently struggling to overcome a strange obsession, addiction or compulsive behavior that is taking over your life?
  • Do you spend countless hours obsessing about something or engaging in behavior that others would say is strange?
  • Have you drained all of your finances into this obsession?
  • Are your friends and family members concerned about your wellbeing?
  • Would you like to regain control of your life and your health?

If you found yourself answering yes to any of these questions, you may qualify to be a participant in a major documentary series that offers professional assistance for those struggling with a strange obsession, compulsion, or addiction.

For consideration, please reply to this advert with your name, age, contact information, and brief explanation of how a strange addiction is taking over your life. You can also contact us directly at 312-467-8145 or 20westcastingteam@gmail.com. All submissions will remain confidential. Thank you for sharing your story.

Postscript: Alternatively, if you would like to tell me your story as part of my own academic research, then feel free to contact me at my academic email address: mark.griffiths@ntu.ac.uk.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading and viewing

Griffiths, J. (2011). Review: My Strange Addiction. US Weekly January 25. http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/review–my-strange-addiction-2011251#ixzz1tYHsItPh

Internet Movie Database. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809014/

My Strange Addiction Official Website. Located at: http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/my-strange-addiction

TV.com. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://www.tv.com/shows/my-strange-addiction/

Warming Glow. The 10 strangest addictions from  ‘My Strange Addiction’. http://warmingglow.uproxx.com/2012/02/10-strangest-my-strange-addictions#page/1

Wikipedia. My Strange Addiction. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Strange_Addiction

Wikipedia. List of My Strange Addiction episodes. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_My_Strange_Addiction_episodes

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