Substance use disorders are nefarious. They affect an addict’s life, family, employment, and more. Often, people going through addiction do not know where to turn. While most professionals agree that addiction is not curable, it is a manageable disease. Some of the most popular and effective ways to manage the disease of addiction is through 12-step programs and complementary therapies such as exercise and self-care.
The Power of Exercise in Recovery
Exercise has long been touted as an important component of addiction recovery. There are several reasons for this. First, exercise is a healthy activity. There are only 24 hours in the day. If you fill two hours each day with getting ready to work out and actual physical activity, there is less time in the day to abuse drugs or alcohol. Also, exercise is more than just a workout routine; it becomes a practice, or a habit. Good habits displace bad ones. For those in recovery, exercise can help manage triggers, stressors, and cravings.
Another reason for exercise’s power in recovery is how a post-workout glow feels eerily similar to the feeling you get after having a drink or taking drugs. The feeling is not necessarily inebriation, but euphoria. When we use substances, our brains release feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Researchers believe that our brains release the same chemicals during and after exercise. Biologically, this makes sense. If we are running from a wild animal, our bodies have incentives to pump natural performance-enhancing chemicals into our systems as a survival mechanism. Dopamine and serotonin dull pain, while adrenalin gives us more energy. The combined effect is a wonderful feeling that can replace addiction.
Self-Care’s Role in Recovery
While exercise can take the place of addictive behavior, self-care supports recovery and exercise, bolstering health and overall well-being. Self-care refers to any action that we take to make us feel better and increase our health. Often, self-care is discussed in terms of how care providers, such as doctors and nurses, run the risk of neglecting themselves. Since you are in charge of your recovery, you should also be wary of focusing on your addiction without attending to other parts of your wellness. Self-care supports our health, so although eating chocolate cake might make us feel good for a moment, it’s not a part of self-care. Pampering can be a component of self-care, such as in a massage or bubble bath, because these actions restore us and soothe muscles. Other types of self-care include:
- Meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness is being fully aware. Addiction, on the other hand, is hiding behind a false mask.
- Similar to mindfulness, but with a stronger connection to our physical selves, yoga helps strengthen and support our bodies. Strong bodies help us fight addiction.
- Balanced diet. An addict’s diets is usually poor. Incorporating nutrition into one’s life is a key component of self-care and recovery.
- Exercise helps us sustain our recovery, but overdoing our workouts can lead to injury, exercise burnout, or an unhealthy obsession that closely resembles addiction. Rest gives us a needed break.
- Proper sleep. Similarly, we need a good night’s sleep to attain whole-body wellness.
- Social health. Often, people in recovery have a difficult time engaging in healthy social relationships. They may have had social relationships that were centered around their drug of choice and their friends are probably not attempting sobriety. It’s important to develop or rekindle relationships with others who can support your recovery efforts.
Exercise and self-care provide a foundation for successful recovery. By focusing on our entire body, instead of just our addiction, we are able to manage our lives in a way that overshadows the need to use substances.
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