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The Relationship Between Drugs and Exercise for Your Addiction Recovery


The Relationship Between Drugs and Exercise for Your Addiction Recovery

Exercise is a physical activity that has tremendous benefits for our bodies. It increases the capacity of our circulatory and respiratory systems as it builds strength in our musculoskeletal system. And what about the benefits for our minds? New research has revealed that even before impacting muscles, strength training causes changes in the brain.

With such profound physical effects on the body, it’s not surprising that exercise also has significant benefits as a behavioral approach in the treatment of substance use disorders. When used in conjunction with other evidence-based interventions, exercise can be a game-changer in addiction recovery. Let’s consider the connection between drugs and exercise and determine what this could mean for you.

Understanding Addiction’s Impact on the Brain

Understanding how addiction affects the brain is key to envisioning the benefits of exercise in the recovery process. The brain functions through the complex interaction of cellular processes and chemical messengers. As we experience pleasure, nerve cells are stimulated and release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the areas of the brain associated with motivation, reward, and memory. Much like a delicious meal, alcohol and addictive drugs have a similar effect on the brain’s reward pathway. Our brain remembers the euphoric experience and is motivated to repeat it. However, tolerance develops over time, blunting the reward system to all pleasurable stimuli, and more of the substance is required to feel that dopamine release—or “high.” This cycle results in addiction.

Successful recovery from addiction must address both the physical and psychological dependence. As you withdraw from substance use and complete the detox process, it’s possible for your reward pathways to recover functioning without the addictive substance. Exercise, as a therapeutic intervention, can aid in this process by improving mood and cognition and promoting healing from a variety of neurological conditions. As it stimulates the same neurotransmitters as drugs and alcohol do, exercise has the potential to normalize the brain’s disrupted pathways. 

The Connection Between Drugs and Exercise at Each Stage of Recovery

The benefits of exercise for substance abuse treatment are groundbreaking and offer incredible healing at each stage in the recovery process.

Detox and Withdrawal

During the detoxification period from drug or alcohol addiction, people typically suffer physical and psychological symptoms as the substance is cleared from their bodies. These symptoms can make individuals sick enough that the reintroduction of the substance seems to be the most desirable option. Without medical intervention, withdrawal can be a very difficult experience.

Though not extensively researched as an intervention for substance use disorders, exercise has shown promise with laboratory animals and in small-scale human trials. The benefits are thought to be related to the positive effects of exercise on those neurotransmitters that affect the reward centers in the brain. As an intervention for substance abuse, exercise can help to reverse drug-induced changes in the brain and can address withdrawal symptoms while providing an activity that may distract from the discomfort of detox.

Behavioral Realignment

Modifying unhealthy behaviors is a cornerstone of substance abuse treatment. As part of the rehabilitation process, participants learn to realign their behaviors without abusing substances. Exercise can play a significant role in this process. When used concurrently with counseling and behavioral therapy, the physical benefits of exercise can help relieve stress, promote relaxation, and improve sleep. Exercise provides a focus that brings numerous benefits, felt both immediately and for years to come.

Habit Building

Substance abuse can cause daily life to become very disordered. Jobs, relationships, and favorite recreational pastimes may get lost. Physical, mental, and spiritual health are neglected. Part of the recovery process involves recreating a healthier daily routine, and exercise can be a cornerstone in this process.

Lifestyle changes that prioritize healthy living and emphasize greater self-care are also essential for long-term recovery. Acknowledging the dangers of addiction and embracing healthy lifestyle choices empower the adoption of healthier habits overall. When a focus on nutritious foods and physical activity becomes part of a new daily routine, these healthy habits can overshadow and replace previous unhealthy pursuits.

Empowerment for a Sustainable Recovery Journey

Developing a habit of self-care creates a healthier body, in turn, allowing damaged body tissues to heal. As participation in an exercise program continues, the psychological and physical benefits will become even more apparent. Exercise powers neuroplastic healing in the brain and helps fight cravings that could lead to relapse. Exercise also builds the confidence and self-discipline needed during the recovery process to manage temptations and triggers along the way.

Finding a Rehab Program That Emphasizes Exercise

With a clear understanding of the powerful role that exercise can play in recovering from addiction, some rehab centers utilize its healing potential in a comprehensive program for substance use disorders. Along with evidence-based therapies and counseling, this emphasis on exercise as a therapeutic modality is focused on repairing the brain’s reward pathway, healing damaged tissues, and creating a healthier daily routine. As part of a renewed outlook, exercise provides accessible tools for living a healthy and fulfilling sober lifestyle. This helps individuals in recovery develop sustainable daily habits and offers real hope for long-term sobriety.

If you’re intrigued by the link between drugs and exercise, let New Choices Treatment Centers provide some answers. Our comprehensive continuum of care is built around this healing therapeutic modality. Contact us online or by phone at (726) 888-7003 to learn more.