According to the disease model of addiction, this serious problem is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Over time, substance abuse changes some of the basic functions of the brain and body.
Addictive substances create a reaction in the brain that releases high levels neurochemicals that are associated with pleasure or reward, namely dopamine. With repeated use of drugs or alcohol, the parts of the brain involved in reward, motivation, and memory change. The body learns that it needs the addictive substance in order to feel normal and often experiences intense cravings for it.
Exercise, like addictive substances, also releases dopamine into the body, but it doesn’t stop there. In addition to dopamine, physical activity also releases other mood-boosting neurochemicals including endorphins, norepinephrine, and serotonin while regulating hormones associated with stress like adrenaline and cortisol. Over time, exercise even has the potential to rebuild damage inflicted by substance abuse. In short, exercise helps release craving-killing dopamine while also helping to repair the imbalances of neurochemicals and hormones created by drug abuse.
Treating Drug and Alcohol Addiction
There are millions of addicts around the world and each one must find their own effective course of treatment in order to recover. Generally, it takes multiple kinds of therapies and a holistic approach that addresses some of the underlying issues associated with addiction. These issues can be either physical or mental.
For instance, addiction often co-occurs alongside anger, aggression and violent tendencies. A person’s rage may become so overwhelming they seek to numb the pain with substances or perhaps they turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with the stresses their problem produces. In this person’s case, their addiction recovery plan needs to include therapy for anger management and incorporating healthy habits including meditation, yoga, and exercise into their lifestyle.
Starting Your Workout Routine for Addiction Recovery
Depending on how long you have been abusing drugs or alcohol, you may have significant physical damage that makes exercise more difficult. For instance, illicit drug use has a serious negative impact on the health and function of your respiratory system. If this is the case for you, start slow when it comes to beginning a workout routine. You don’t have to run a mile your first day. Begin with walking and add a little running as you grow stronger.
More tips for starting your workout routine:
- Find a workout buddy. You can hold each other accountable and make exercise a social engagement rather than a chore.
- Invest in some new workout gear to help motivate you. Make sure you buy shoes that are supportive and support bad joints with medical braces.
- Set fitness goals. You don’t have to be the best, but you can be better than you were the day before. Not only do goals keep you going, they also help build much needed self-esteem that helps you get through addiction recovery.
- Create space in your routine for exercise, but don’t get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Variety doesn’t just keep things interesting, but also it keeps your body guessing so you don’t hit a dreaded fitness plateau.
- Don’t just rely on cardio. You also need to incorporate strength training and stretching into your workouts. Yoga is a gentle way to help your body build muscle and flexibility at the same time.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout. Staying hydrated all day will help make your workouts easier. Carry a water bottle around with you during the day and fill it up intermittently to help make it a habit.
- Consider booking a session with a trainer. Even if you don’t see him regularly, he can help teach you some of the basics of form and give you ideas for future workouts in that introductory hour.
Addiction is a disease that changes how your brain functions. When going through addiction recovery, adding exercise into your regimen can help regulate neurochemicals and repair the damage done by substance abuse. If you want to add exercise into your recovery plan, start slow and create a goal that encourages to keep going.