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How exercise can help addicts get better

African American Man Riding BicycleThe first year of sobriety, from alcohol or drugs, can be rough. Relapse rates range from 60% to 90% in those first twelve months. But there are ways to keep yourself out of that percentage bracket, and one of them is to find healthy lifestyle choices.

Replacing an unhealthy addiction with a healthy habit and lifestyle.

For example, studies have shown that exercise can help people fight addiction. “It’s a great way to introduce people into something that then later becomes … sort of their coping mechanism, as opposed to picking up a drink or a drug,” says Colorado’s Scott Strode, a former addict whose nonprofit organization, Phoenix Multisport, to provide free athletic activities and a sober support community to thousands of people.

“Habits play an important role in our health,” according to Dr. Nora Volkow, writing in a National Institute of Health newsletter. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.”

Researchers haven’t yet figured out exactly why exercise can help prevent and treat addiction; they’re trying to figure out the secret, but:

  • One obvious reason is that when addicts have to give up their past social activities and their friends that use, they have to find something to fill that free time. Exercise, especially when done with a group, can help fill that void.
  • Exercise can also help give their lives structure, which assists with focusing on sobriety.
  • Exercise increases levels of dopamine in the brain—and dopamine, a chemical that’s associated with feelings of pleasure, can be diminished over time by substance abuse.
  • Exercise can give the addict a new kind of healthy “high” and help them combat cravings.
  • Exercise also decreases anxiety and stress, which can reduce an addict’s desire for drugs or alcohol.

Some people claim that an addiction is an addiction, and that a replacement addiction can be just as harmful. However, Richard Brown, director of addictions research at Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island points out, “One of those addictions leads to basically a devastation throughout all aspects of your life and probably premature death. The other addiction leads to improved cardiovascular health, better self-esteem, better self-efficacy and maybe some joint problems when you get older. It’s an apples-and-chain saws comparison.”

Horizon Health believes in the power of exercise to help on the road to recovery. Our Wellness Center on the Horizon Village Campus in Western New York is a testament to that philosophy. Would you like to know more? Please call Horizon Health Services at (716) 831-1800, so we can discuss your healthy path to sobriety.