When a person is attempting to recover from addiction, their mind and body are working against them. The body and mind miss whatever was producing endorphins in the brain, responsible for the feeling of being “high.” Add in everyday stress, which can heighten cravings, and the recovery process can be a knockdown, drag out fight between the user and their cravings. This is why keeping focused on goals and remaining productive is so important in the lives of recovering addicts. Many believe that staying active and healthy is an important factor in their long term sobriety.
How Exercise Literally Changes Our Mood
It can be very common for an individual to become depressed during withdrawal. Not only that, but addicts and alcoholics in recovery who seek long term sobriety, well, it takes their brains a minute to heal entirely. They are missing important endorphins, and other brain chemicals that make them feel good.
Exercise can be the source for these good feelings.
Exercise creates the release of endorphins (which can act as the natural high) along with endocannabinoids (marijuana like substance which can enhance that natural high), it’s possible working out can help an individual cope with, well, just about everything.
Studies also show exercise can reduce stress because galanin (a chemical found in the brain during exercise) seems to diminish certain stress related cravings. Other research has found that smokers report fewer withdrawal symptoms and less intense cravings after a trip to the gym. Continuous exercise may diminish drug seek behaviors.
Effects of Exercise on Drug Addiction
To get a real idea of what effects exercise has on drug addiction, scientists turned their usual rats into literal gym rats. They injected the rats with drugs like nicotine, morphine, alcohol and amphetamines. The group of rats put in a cage with an exercise wheel tapped the drug dispensing lever far less often than the rats without an exercise wheel.
One of the reasons for this may be that the wheel became an alternative to the drugs, making them less susceptible to becoming addicted. Another possibility is that when exercise endorphins kick in, working out may help with treating addiction by replacing one feel good activity with another.
Or the exercise was a distraction. When focusing on the next set, it’s possible an addict has no time to think about the next fix. And while exercise alleviates some of the symptoms of withdrawal, it may not improve chances of staying sober long term. Also, for some, exercise becomes an addiction all on its own.
So while exercise by itself is not a cure for addiction, it can be another tool to help build a healthy life. If all else fails, it can make you feel great, lead to a healthier life, and a happier one too.