The use of drugs and alcohol will deposit higher than normal levels of dopamine into the reward center of the brain. This event is what produces the initial “high” with feelings of euphoria and well-being. It is also a primary reason why people keep going back for more. The people who exercise through addiction are usually a bit happier. That is helpful through the recovery process because use of drugs or alcohol causes behavior changes to become permanent. The brain begins to crave the effects of the drugs and alcohol because it has become flooded with dopamine and is now operating in an unbalanced way. Once the dopamine system has been altered, it will remain sensitive to the rewards that drugs and alcohol offer.
Exercise through Addiction
When a person has recovered from drug or alcohol addiction and they encounter new problems or high-stress situations, the brain will remember the calming effects of higher levels of dopamine. Along with the feelings of euphoria and well-being, many recovered addicts succumb to relapse in an effort to relieve themselves from stress. It appears to be the only source of relief for the recovered addict. But that is not true. There are other healthy alternatives that a person can take. One of these alternatives is exercise.
The Benefits of Exercise
Exercise has been found to boost dopamine levels in the brain and creates enhanced feelings of calm and wellness. It also improves mood, attention and motivation. Exercise will dramatically increase the dopamine storage in the brain. It also increases the production of enzymes that create dopamine receptors in the reward center of the brain. If the dopamine levels of the brain are low, the dopamine genes become activated to produce more. This activity creates stability in the regulation of dopamine pathways in the brain. Because exercise produces homeostasis in the brain, it is a helpful tool in controlling drug or alcohol craving and addiction.
Exercise works to eliminate the negative feelings of anxiety, depression and hopelessness. Many mental disorders that co-occur with addiction can be effectively impacted with physical exercise. Exercise can establish a more positive outlook on life by helping to reduce and eliminate negative thought patterns and behaviors. The calming effects of exercise will also counteract impulsive and risky behavior. The person will feel more grounded, in control, peaceful, and happy. Aerobic exercise and strength training both decrease negativity and improve a person’s overall attitude.
Exercise is a great stress reliever and also builds self-confidence in a person. Some recovering addicts are dealing with the negative emotions of shame, loss of control, powerlessness and instability. They can begin to counteract these feelings with a regimen of exercise. It will give them focus, purpose, and renewed physical, emotional and spiritual strength. Exercise is a healthy encounter with the body and mind. It is not compatible with drug and alcohol addiction. For a person to be able to exercise they will need healthy lung power, muscle strength and mental awareness. Drug and alcohol addiction destroy and waste away the body and mind. Exercise brings the person back to wholeness.
A well-structured fitness program will improve strength, balance, healthy body weight and cardiovascular health. It will also improve a recovering addict’s sense of well-being and build up their self-esteem. Besides aerobic exercise and strength training, there are other forms of exercise that are beneficial to recovery. Some of these exercises are: running, playing sports, yoga, gymnastics and dancing. The enjoyment of feeling strong and healthy also leads many people to change to a healthier diet. Good nutritional support is another key to staying clean and sober.
When feeling depressed, anxious, unmotivated and moody – exercise! When life hands you lemons – Exercise! When you need a mental or spiritual lift – exercise! The benefits of exercise will outlast anything that is counter-productive. It will make you feel and look great, and help you put a negative past behind you.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.