Doctor talking to her male patient at officeRecovering from substance abuse and addiction isn’t an overnight process. You don’t merely complete detox and then go on your way — not if you want the effects of detoxification to last, that is. An estimated 23.5 million Americans were in recovery from addiction as of March 2012, per the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Unfortunately, this makes up only a small number of those who need treatment for an addiction. In 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 23.1 million people were addicted to an illicit substance or alcohol and only 2.5 million sought help for their problem.

Recovery isn’t just about willpower, medications, and the avoidance of triggers; it’s much more than that. While you’re far more likely to remain abstinent if you avoid people who use and places where drug or alcohol abuse is prevalent, it’s only part of the equation. There are other things you can do to boost your chances of success, including:

  • Meditation
  • Support groups
  • Spiritual practices and evolution
  • Balanced nutrition
  • Exercise

Hormones and exercise

When you introduce physical activity as a means of coping with recovery, various things happen in your body. Endorphins play a big role in keeping us motivated, lively, and happy. In their absence, we may feel sullen, moody, tired, or depressed. Exercise also aids in diminishing drug cravings. In one Vanderbilt University study of 12 students, marijuana cravings and use were decreased by over 50 percent after engaging in treadmill workouts that were 10-30 minutes long over a span of two weeks’ time.

Dopamine is severely affected by many drugs as dopamine receptors can be damaged or destroyed. It can take years for pleasure centers to activate again via these receptors, as they must slowly heal and rebuild over time.

Serotonin is another hormone that ramps up reward centers and makes you feel better. Exercise is a fantastic way of boosting serotonin without the help of antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Many drugs and alcohol inhibit serotonin levels, leading users to feel down and depressed after the high wears off.

Many who have been long-time abusers of stimulants, opioids, or even benzodiazepines, in some cases, will have shed pounds over time, sometimes leaving them looking emaciated and gaunt. Exercise can build muscle that has eroded away and allow these individuals to gain weight at a healthy pace.
There is no shortage of mental illness among substance abusers. Mental health disorders affect around 53 percent of all drug addicts and 37 percent of alcoholics, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Per NAMI, regular exercise is particularly important for those suffering from mental health issues. In addition to protecting against medical issues that are more common in those with mental health issues, regular exercise can also help guard against anxiety and depression.

Some of the most common mental illnesses among substance abusers are bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders. Exercise works to improve the mood of some with mental illness by combating the symptoms they feel. Since exercise brings more energy to those who partake in it, it can help to combat the incessant fatigue and lethargy that come with chronic depression and anxiety.

Many treatment facilities now incorporate exercise and structured diets into their treatment plans. The goal is not only to promote better moods as a conduit for warding off relapse but to also return the individual to society and life with a mindset that encourages positive choices and leaves the individual feeling whole. With regular exercise, a recovering addict can improve circulation, heart rate, appetite, sleep schedules, stress levels, cognitive abilities, and more.

Treatment numbers

Think for a moment about all of the people who have been brave enough to step forward and ask for help. Consider the reasons they entered treatment and how much better they are faring on the other side of addiction — in recovery.

Among those who sought treatment in 2012, 16.4 percent were in rehab for addiction to heroin and 9.4 percent for addiction to other opioids — like prescription pain relievers — and synthetic drugs like bath salts and spice, per the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research.

Another 6.9 percent sought help for a stimulant addiction to drugs like cocaine and 6.7 percent for methamphetamine, the IUCPSR reports. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 17 percent were in treatment for marijuana addiction. Alcohol certainly represents the largest number of addicts in rehab, with 21 percent of 2012 admissions being for alcohol alone and 18 percent accounting for alcohol plus a secondary drug, SAMHSA notes. Each of these individuals left rehab with a goal of staying sober and the majority of them did not. The more comprehensive the treatment plan, the better one’s chances at a sustained sobriety.

While exercise and diet are not addiction treatment methods on their own, they can be part of a comprehensive recovery plan. In addition, some research now points toward exercise being a beneficial prevention tactic for drug and alcohol abuse. One NBC News report details a study in which youths and teenagers who engaged in exercise on a daily basis were 50 percent less likely to smoke than their peers who didn’t exercise daily, and they were 40 percent less likely to try marijuana.

Ultimately, a well-rounded and balanced life is the best way to bolster one’s recovery, and exercise is part of that.

Call The Recovery Village today to learn how to take the first step on your recovery journey.

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