Exercise, the Key to Sobriety
By Susan Treadway, 2018
When it comes to substance abuse, it’s easy to get carried away. Using drugs or alcohol causes a surge of dopamine -- a neurotransmitter that regulates feelings of pleasure -- in the brain. After repeated use, the body is tricked into thinking it needs the substance of choice in order to feel normal. The substance use then grows to become compulsive and the user loses control of their behavior. Consequences of addiction can be mental, physical, social and even legal.
As easy as it is to become addicted, recovery is much, much more difficult. If you are lucky, you’ve caught your problematic behavior in time to avoid the most serious problems associated with addiction. People lose their health, their financial freedom and even their families to addiction. But even if things have not become that bad yet, you have to completely change your lifestyle to a way that facilitates sobriety. You may have to cut people out of your life, avoid certain places, and confront difficult emotions in therapy.
Adding exercise into their daily routine is an essential lifestyle change every addict should make. Exercise can help reduce cravings, build confidence and provide much-needed structure for an addict. Below we’ve highlighted some of the ways exercise benefits sobriety.
EXERCISE IS A FOUNDATION FOR ROUTINE
Recovery requires a routine. Knowing what you are supposed to do each day helps alleviate anxiety and distracts you from wanting to use. Exercise has a great way of getting you on a regimen. It can be the first thing you accomplish in the morning which leads into a hot shower and boost of energy to start your day.
EXERCISE REDUCES CRAVINGS
When you experience a craving for drugs or a drink, what you are really craving is that rush of dopamine through your brain. Luckily, you don’t have to use in order to get that feeling. Exercise releases dopamine as well. Beyond that, exercise triggers the release of endorphins that promote a “high” feeling as well as reducing pain. Some people have even found themselves addicted to exercise, though it is often an offshoot of disordered eating and body dysmorphia. As long as you use it as a tool to relieve anxiety and you don’t notice it overtaking your life, exercising everyday is safe and healthy.
EXERCISE BUILDS CONFIDENCE
When you’ve lost control over your life due to addiction, it can do some serious damage to your self-confidence. Addiction is humbling, scary and sad. While addressing these difficult emotions takes a lot more than a run, exercising can be a useful tool when it comes to rebuilding your confidence. When you work out, you notice changes in your body. You feel healthier, you grow stronger, and you start to glow from the inside out. You don’t just look good, you feel good as well thanks to all those mood-regulating neurochemicals.
EXERCISE TEACHES MINDFULNESS
Whether you think you want a drink or you turned to drugs as a way to cope with not having something, the wanting mind plays a big part in addiction. Practicing mindfulness can teach you to quiet the wanting mind so you are happier and in control of your behavior. Exercise is like mindfulness in motion. When you are exercising, you have to focus on the moment at hand in order to stay safe. Every time you exercise, you are strengthening your mindfulness muscles as much as your physical. You can even practice mindful meditation when not exercising to improve your performance. Meditating in your free time makes you more resilient, reduces pain, and helps you realize your blind spots. Set up a meditation room at home where you can pursue your practice free from distractions.
Exercise is an incredibly helpful tool when it comes to maintaining sobriety. It is a great thing to build a routine around and re-builds confidence that addiction decimated. The neurochemicals released through exercise can kill cravings for drugs and alcohol. Exercise also improves mindfulness (and vice versa!), which quiets the wanting mind that tells you to engage in substance abuse.