Recovering is as much mental as it is physical. Overcoming substance abuse and teaching your body and mind how to function without the substance your brain was taught to need is a workout in itself. Addiction recovery is a battle fought every day, and some days the battle is harder than others. In order to stay on the right track and fight addiction, it’s best to use all the tools at your disposal, one of which is working out. Working out is a great tool for anyone, but many of the perks to working out are things that are needed for addiction recovery.
Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters produced in the brain that affect mood. They also happen to be two major neurotransmitters that are affected by exercise as well as substance abuse. From an addiction standpoint, the chemical compounds of many substances that cause addiction mess with these neurotransmitters and confuse the brain. The communication centers and pleasure centers get crisscrossed and the brain starts to crave these substances and confuse them with something good.
In the simplest terms, dopamine affects the reward centers and serotonin affects mood. Substance abuse increases these things, but so does exercise. This transition from drug use to exercise aids in addiction recovery because it can rewire the confused areas of the brain associating drug use with reward and happiness and transfer it to exercise. Withdrawal and craving are big parts of addiction and exercise can help to ease your mental state from these things.
Addiction can take a major toll on your body. The substances being abused can affect almost every system in the body. Many substances affect the body differently; some cause weight gain while others cause severe weight loss. It can cause teeth loss and decay or gum disease, a sullen and gaunt appearance, and wrinkles. Some increase risk of lung and heart disease, liver and kidney damage, convulsions, stroke, heart attack, and infection. Those that use drugs are at a higher risk for infections like HIV and hepatitis; mortality rate skyrockets.
Whereas many of these physical symptoms of addiction cannot be repaired by exercise or otherwise, it can help to improve physical health in many of these areas. Aerobic exercises help the cardiovascular and muscle systems improve strength and stamina. Anaerobic exercises affect many of the same parts of the body as aerobic exercise but higher intensity.
Whichever type of exercise you choose, it will help to build back muscle mass, increase heart and lung capacity, and improve overall health. For those that have experienced physical distress due to their addiction, exercise is a great way to repair the damage done by substance abuse.
Starting a Routine
Starting a workout routine is a great practice for those recovering from addiction. Creating change and starting life without addiction is all about a change in lifestyle. If you become sober but still live in the same lifestyle, your sobriety probably won’t last long.
Addiction recovery means changing your mental view on addiction, repairing the physical damage, and letting go of all bad habits, even those that don’t involve drug use. This means staying away from others that aren’t sober, avoiding triggers, and making positive changes all around. The more positive change that’s made, the better your sober environment and mindset will be.
Starting a routine is a great change in lifestyle for many people suffering with addiction. This means making a workout plan and sticking to it, waking up at a certain time, writing a menu for the week, reading for one hour per night, whatever suits your goals. The important thing is to utilize exercise not only as a way to help your body and mind recover from addiction, but also has a way to organize your sober lifestyle.
Caring About Your Body
Those in the grips of addiction do not care about the toll that substance abuse takes on their body, or their minds. Addiction is a brain disease that makes it near impossible to just stop using, so it’s much more than willpower that is needed to get sober. The reasons why people start using, or why some tend to be predisposed to addiction have been debated, but the reasons lie with both our biology and our environment. For these reasons, addiction has the ability to affect some and not others.
However, exercise has the ability to change your view on how you treat your body. Even if you just go to the gym a few times a month and are trying to eat better, you are being more conscious about your body and what goes into it. You don’t have to become a health nut or a gym rat in order to care more about your body and help aid in your addiction recovery.
Your chances of relapsing and putting more harmful substances in your body decrease some when you start to care about your body and keeping it healthy.
Addiction is a very mental thing in many ways, and not only in the biology of the brain. Addiction affects your self-worth, confidence, happiness, and relationships with others. Issues with depression and anxiety are commonly seen paired with addiction either as the underlying issue for self-medicating with substances, or as a result of feeling guilt and shame with their drug use.
For addicts, the most important aspect is to receive the feelings that their substance gives them, so obtaining that substance is their number one priority. This can cause manipulative behavior, lying, stealing, and aggression towards their close friends and loved ones. Addiction is a problem that affects everyone around it in many ways, including family members. For this reason, those recovering from addiction have guilt associated with that behavior and have poor self-worth because of it.
Exercise not only helps with the brain’s biology in releasing neurotransmitters that make us happy and rewarded, it also shows us that we are capable of taking charge and making change. Seeing results in your body, your routine, and your lifestyle, can be just the confidence boost a recovering addict needs in order to realize they are in charge of their own decisions. Not only are you able to change your body, see results in your life, and succeed in something you put your mind to, but you can also do that with your addiction. These wins are huge for those struggling with the feelings of inadequacy that stem from behaviors caused by addiction.
Despite the negative impact addiction has and the shame associated with a past littered with substance abuse, it’s an extremely brave thing to overcome addiction. The decision to get sober and the success in remaining sober is one to be celebrated. It can be easy to fall victim to the sadness associated with addiction, but it’s important to fight through that feeling and utilize every tool available to get through addiction recovery; and exercise is one very valuable tool in the arsenal.
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