Adding Exercise to Addiction Treatment can Strengthen the Effects of Recovery


Many studies have suggested that adding exercise to addiction treatment, which can include counseling, self-help support groups and/or medication, can strengthen the effects of recovery. In the early stages of recovery, individuals have reported feeling physically ill, weak, and unmotivated. There is no “right amount” of physical activity when it comes to exercising, but the benefits of engaging your body in the process of recovery are substantial and consistent.

It’s important to understand the similarities between how our bodies respond to substance use and how our bodies respond to exercise. Two words you should be familiar with are dopamine and endorphins. Dopamine is the feel-good chemical that plays an important role in mood, energy, attitude, and motivation. Endorphins are chemicals naturally released in the brain to reduce pain, that in large amounts can make you feel relaxed or full of energy. Individuals struggling with addiction experience mind and body cravings for endorphins that lead to the high he or she is used to. Substances flood the brain with dopamine and condition us to expect artificially high levels of the neurotransmitter. In this case, the brain begins to associate the drug with an enormous neurochemical reward. Exercise can cause the release of those same endorphins which helps to produce dopamine. Therefore, exercise can provide individuals with a similar, though less intense, pleasurable and rewarding experience.

In addition, exercise can help to combat the many withdrawal symptoms that come from substance dependence. Other helpful changes exercise can produce include providing individuals with a productive way to fill your time, helps regulate sleeping patterns, helps with stress reduction and improves overall health. There are many ways to activate the reward circuitry in the brain outside of using drugs or alcohol, and it’s important that we continue to implement full mind and body approaches in addiction treatment.

Project Courage firmly believes in the benefits that physical activity provides clients. That is why our services include adventure based counseling, fitness training, and yoga. To learn more about our services visit us here.