Substance abuse takes its toll on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Healing from addiction requires more than just abstaining from substance abuse. Various forms of therapy can help address the mental and emotional health needs of clients and while not using substances will inevitably lead to improvements in physical health, becoming more physically active can help strengthen outcomes. Lifestyle changes are important in supporting sobriety and reducing the risk of relapse. Many people who misuse drugs or alcohol neglect their physical health while supporting their addiction. Developing ways to address the damage addiction inflicts on a person’s physical health is essential to recovery.

How Exercise Helps Addiction Recovery

Exercise is an important component of recovery. Not only does it help improve recovery outcomes, but it also helps a person establish healthy habits that provide lifelong health benefits. Developing healthy habits early in recovery can help a person overcome some of the more challenging aspects of treatment, specifically how to cope with cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and triggers. Exercise is a positive, proven method of coping with difficult emotions and experiences in a productive way. It helps alleviate stress, releases pent-up energy, and can be a great way to create structure and accountability in one’s daily life.

  1. Creating routine: Establishing healthy routines is important in early recovery. Many people find they have more time on their hands once they are no longer spending their time focused on acquiring and using substances. Filling this time with productive, healthy activities can make early recovery more manageable. In addition to helping to address the potential issues boredom and idleness can create, establishing routines early on can have a positive impact on both physical and mental health. Working out on a regular basis can help create routines that focus on self-improvement and individual growth.
  2. Relieving stress: Drugs and alcohol are often used as a means of escape. Although they may provide temporary relief, it often leads to an overall worsened state of mind. Finding new ways to cope with stress is imperative to recovery outcomes. Exercise is an effective way to manage stress effectively because it causes the brain to release feel-good chemicals in the brain. This boosts mood while simultaneously reducing stress. This makes exercise a positive way to cope with difficult emotions and stressors that may otherwise threaten sobriety.
  3. Boosting mood: Substances are often misused because of their ability to produce feelings of euphoria. While people chase these temporary highs to feel good, continued substance abuse causes imbalances in the brain that affects mood. Early recovery is especially difficult as the absence of substances means these imbalances are no longer masked. Finding ways to cope and create balance is vital to success. Exercise is a proven method of boosting mood and improving mental health. Exercise causes the brain to release feel-good endorphins and can be a positive outlet for negative emotions.
  4. Creating a healthy coping mechanism: Recovery is heavily focused on finding new ways to cope with stressors in a health way. Where a person would previously use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficulties, exercise can now take its place. Exercise can help a person heal mentally and physically from the effects of substance abuse. Rather than giving into triggers or stressors, exercise can provide a means of escape that also comes with a number of positive side effects for a person’s overall wellbeing.
  5. Improvements to physical health: Substance abuse takes its toll on the mind and body. Part of recovery is focusing on healing physically from the damage substance abuse inflicts. There is a heavy focus on improving diet and nutrition, and exercise can be used in conjunction with this. Exercising regularly can improve physical health by helping people achieve a healthy weight, become more toned, stronger, and more confident.
  6. Better sleep: Substance abuse can negatively affect sleep in a number of ways. Even in early recovery, many people struggle with changes in sleeping patterns. Oversleeping, insomnia, and disturbed sleep patterns can be draining both physically and mentally. Exercise is a natural way to improve a person’s quality of sleep. Having more restful, consistent nights of sleep can improve mental and physical functioning.
  7. More energy: Side effects of drug and alcohol abuse can cause people to become less active. In recovery, withdrawal from substances can make people become more lethargic as they try to cope with cravings. While it can be difficult to find the motivation to get active when struggling with these feelings, exercise can help the body expel energy in a productive way. The combination of boosted mood and increased energy can improve motivation and be a source of encouragement in recovery.
  8. Building healthy relationships: Exercise also creates a space for new social relationships to develop. Whether exercise is done in the form of dance, yoga, weightlifting, sports, or running, there are no shortage of activities to try. These activities can be done alone or in groups, helping people develop relationships with others that are not based around substance abuse. They are able to forge meaningful relationships with others that can serve as a source of support while simultaneously reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness (all of which can be triggers for relapse).

Staying active is only a piece of the puzzle in recovery. Coupled with other forms of treatment, exercise can be a great way to improve recovery outcomes. It creates space for a person to build confidence and strengthen both physical and mental health. All of these benefits of exercise are critical to improving overall wellbeing and reducing the risk of relapse.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.