Last updated: 04/24/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Addiction is, according to the NIDA, “a complex brain disease characterized by compulsive, at times uncontrollable drug craving, seeking, and use despite devastating consequences.” Detox alone, is insufficient in maintaining significant time in abstinence and improving the quality of an addict’s life to avoid relapse and successfully recover.
Since addiction problems and illnesses occur with varied severity and a wide range of complexity that is unique to each individual, effective addiction treatments incorporate the best treatment practices with many elements, including physical exercise, as a role to the healing processes.
The Benefits of Exercise
Most of us are aware of the importance of exercise in our life although we don’t always adhere to any specific regimens. We know it has the ability to help us prevent or control various aspects of physical health that commonly drag us down such as low energy or weakness and excessive weight or appearances while mitigating the effects of serious illnesses and diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
We also know that when we exercise, we naturally feel better and whether it’s the emotional accomplishment or the power of exercise to improve our mental health by relieving stress, anxiety, depression, adverse preoccupations, or spiritual emptiness, the list of benefits can go on and on.
Improving Physical Health
Exercise plays a major role in addiction treatment for reductions of harm and cost burdens to society by improving physical health. Most addicts have some sort of physical health deterioration due to poor diet, sleep, and habitual exposures to toxins running through their blood and damaging vital systems and organs and; for the most part, addicts typically have a general disregard for their health throughout the course of their addiction.
There is every indication that exercise can help to reverse some of these problems by boosting energy, promoting sleep and relaxation, and increasing strength and stamina while reducing stress. Improvements in appearance, immunity, circulatory, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems of addicts can have long term benefits in their abilities to maintain abstinence and provide for their basic needs such as returning to work or caring for their children and families.
Improving Mental Health
According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS), about 45% of Americans seeking substance use disorder treatment have been diagnosed as having a co-occurring mental and substance use disorder. Research and scientific evidence show that exercise can impact the basic neurons that make us tick in almost any given single way. In an addiction treatment, this becomes a crucial recovery incentive to “re-wire” those negative neuronal adaptations that are most common in addicts affecting brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.
Addicts typically have low self esteem, decreased motivations, and a variety of defense mechanisms they use to avoid the pain and problems associated with their addiction. By elevating moods, relieving depression, anxiety, stress, and isolation while improving cognition, focus, and motivations, physical exercise has a powerful role in addiction treatments for coping with the challenges of addiction and the reduction of vulnerable risks. Replacing unhealthy behaviors with physical exercise is one of the most common methods of healing and handling life’s stressor’s that, for addicts, can lead to relapse even after prolonged abstinence.
Improving Social Functioning
As a result of long term or chronic substance abuse, addicts manifest a broad range of social problems that keeps them from a productive and satisfying quality of life. Using physical exercise as a modem to improve physical and psychological health in an addiction treatment has the added benefits of improving social functioning by:
- Physical exercise helps to preoccupy the mind with pleasurable sensations to reducing the frequent cravings and needs associated with finding, obtaining, or using substances that often leads to associated crimes, arrests, dangers, self-sabotage, and harms to others. Reinforcing the positive and healthy lifestyle choices through physical exercise can be a significant motivating factor in the home and community to live a self-directed life free from the destructive impacts of abusing substances.
- Reducing isolation and other concerns that previously inhibited social involvements such as rebuilding broken relationships or pursuing new and healthier ones. Exercise helps to promote clarity of mind, dignity, self-confidence, self-worth, and improve the overall self-image of an addict that can lead to better coping, communication, and acceptance skills for dealing with difficult challenges in recovery.
- Finding meaningful purpose such as finding employment, returning to school, helping others, volunteering, mentoring, or being a positive role model in the community is much easier when one has a better perspective on things. In this area, few things are more fundamentally helpful than physical exercise that gets the positive endorphins flowing and helps to re-balance and renew those dysfunctional circuits that through chemical adulterations had let addiction maintain its control.