“… these studies have provided convincing evidence to support the development of exercise-based interventions to reduce compulsive patterns of drug intake in clinical and at-risk populations.”
~Mark Smith and Wendy Lynch, Exercise As a Potential Treatment for Drug Abuse: Evidence from Preclinical Studies
Chronic substance abuse interferes with your ability to function normally – when actively addicted, your sleep, your eating habits, your relationships, and even how you feel are all disrupted. As your brain is hijacked by addiction, healthy balance is compromised.
But there is good news – more and more research is beginning to show how vigorous exercise during recovery can help support your continued sobriety.
Exercise serves as a positive alternative for substance use because it reinforces brain adaptations that can increase a person’s resistance to a drug or alcohol disorder.
For example, exercise can ease symptoms of both anxiety and depression – two disorders strongly associated with substance abuse. It does this in several ways:
This suggests that physical activity may activate the same “reward” pathways within the brain as addictive substances. This means that physical activity can serve as a healthy alternative to drug or alcohol.
One of the main symptoms of an addictive disorder is when a person spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing about, acquiring, using, and recovering from intoxicating substances.
During recovery, a person who is newly sober may find themselves with an excess of time on their hands, and boredom can be counterproductive to successful recovery. Many people relapse simply because they are lacking positive stimulation.
A regular exercise program means that the recovering addict/alcoholic always has a positive activity to engage in, regardless of time of day, lack of funds, or location.
There have been numerous studies that highlight the benefits of physical activity as a means to combat substance abuse:
Physical activity also results in decreased consumption of alcohol and a reduction in the euphoria produced by opioids. Cocaine…amphetamines…alcohol…opioids – the positive effects that exercise has on addiction seem to be universal.
Exercise is an excellent addition to any structured program of recovery from addiction, and can be an integral part of the healthy lifestyle changes required by a successful return to sobriety.