A recent study published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) shows that exercise has a positive impact on substance use disorder treatment, decreasing overall use and contributing to sobriety.
This comes at a time when substance use and overdose deaths are on the rise worldwide. Among the many challenges facing addiction treatment, bolstering efficacy is a primary concern.
While some treatment centers encourage physical fitness, many do not have a program that incorporates it into the broader scope of treatment.
Exercise Is Shown To Measurably Improve The Efficacy Of Addiction Treatment
The PLOS ONE study indicates that incorporating a light workout involving jogging or comparable activities three times a week can help participants quit or reduce their use.
The featured research also identifies specific ways in which exercise can help the brain of the person who is overcoming substance abuse.
How Exercise Helps People Recover From Addiction
It is one thing to identify is helpful in an addiction treatment program, but it is another to understand the mechanisms that make it so effective at supporting sobriety.
While we think of exercise as being physical in nature, many of the effects that it has on the person who is exercising are mental in nature.
This is a significant realization for people who are recovering from addiction. By exercising, they can impact their overall health, not just their physical health.
Effect On Dopamine
Exercise impacts dopamine processing in the brain. In other words, a physical workout triggers the brain’s reward system.
For people in recovery, this amounts to a natural way of healing what drugs and alcohol have damaged.
Many substances, especially methamphetamine and opioids, distort the dopaminergic system in the brain. They cause abnormal spikes in the levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters.
Over time, the brain adjusts to accommodate these increased levels, demanding more of the drug to achieve the same high and unable to function properly at normal levels.
Exercise essentially regulates the dopaminergic system by releasing dopamine in controlled, healthy amounts.
Effect On Mood
Due to the controlled release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, exercise has a positive effect on a person’s mood.
People in recovery often experience anxiety, depression, and mood swings, so exercise can be a vital tool for managing those symptoms.
Those who exercise regularly are not only physically fit but mentally as well.
Effect On Healing Of The Brain
One of the effects of illicit drug use and alcohol abuse is the slowed growth of new nerve tissue, known as neurogenesis.
Months and years of illicit drug use or alcohol abuse weaken neurogenesis, but regular exercise has been shown to strengthen this process, resulting in the healing of the brain.
Effect On Relapse Prevention
Depressed dopamine levels and co-occurring mental health disorders are both major areas of concern in addiction treatment.
While exercise is not a cure-all, the fact that it positively impacts both interrelated concerns is significant. A regular exercise program can be a strong relapse-prevention strategy as a result.
Types Of Exercise That Benefit Addiction Recovery
One area of exercise and addiction recovery that needs further study is what kinds of exercise best impact the recovery process.
Examples of beneficial exercise include:
- weight lifting
It is important to note that light exercise is all that is needed to make an impact on your recovery.
Types Of Addictions Known To Be Affected By Exercise
The positive effects of exercise can be applied to many forms of addiction, especially those that trigger a high dopaminergic response.
The substance use disorders most likely to benefit from exercise include:
The Challenges Of Exercise And Substance Abuse Treatment
Even with exercise, substance abuse treatment comes with significant challenges. These obstacles, in particular, can make it more difficult to use exercise as a recovery tool.
Lack Of Motivation To Exercise
One of the biggest practical obstacles to exercise is motivation.
In the early stages of recovery, people often feel a distinct lack of motivation and may even experience physical symptoms that are difficult to push through.
Contingency management, a form of evidence-based behavioral therapy, may be able to help, as rewards for exercise can reinforce the behavior until the dopamine system begins to respond.
The Relationship Between Exercise And Alcohol
One of the problematic areas of exercise and substance abuse is alcohol.
Past studies have shown that people who use alcohol moderately or even heavily often also have healthy exercise habits. So alcohol use may be an anomaly in regard to exercise.
Best Settings For Exercise And Addiction Treatment
Group exercise is one of the most supportive settings for substance abuse disorder treatment.
Like group therapy or group psycho-educational classes, people can build camaraderie when they have gone through similar things that they are now trying to overcome.
With exercise in addiction recovery, people are able to bond over the things that have negatively affected their bodies as well as the positive challenges that exercise presents.
When people work together to meet physical challenges, it strengthens them as individuals and as a group seeking to recover from substance abuse.
Find Addiction Treatment Today
If you are facing substance abuse, you can find addiction treatment today. Call DetoxRehabs.net to learn more about your recovery options.Article Sources
- The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
- Frontiers in Psychiatry
- Frontiers in Psychiatry
- Harvard Health Publishing
- PLOS One
- The Washington Post