Using Exercise to Aid Alcohol and Drug Recovery

6 Proven Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Using Exercise to Aid Alcohol and Drug Recovery

When you use drugs and alcohol in excess, your body and mind are both impacted. Addiction changes your body chemistry. Once substances are removed, you may be left feeling anxious, depressed and sensitive to some of life’s major stressors.

The good news is that physical activity can help shift the tide on those negative emotions and bring you some positive results. Whether you are new in addiction recovery or have been away from harmful substances for many years, there are several proven benefits to getting regular exercise.

1. Stress Reduction

Stress can be a particular problem in addiction recovery and can lead to relapse if not properly managed. One of the ways that you can reduce and control stress is through exercise. Physical activity releases feel-good endorphins in the brain and improves circulation, both of which help with stress.

2. Better Sleep

Having problems with sleep is not uncommon in recovery. In fact, many people begin using alcohol or drugs believing that these substances would help them get the rest they needed. Regular exercise can improve both your quality and quantity of sleep.

According to SMART Recovery, “As the body and mind continue to return to a more normal state, many people in recovery find exercise also helps restore a normal sleep schedule.”

3. Improved Mood

Mood changes can be associated with addiction recovery, and you can help your body adjust to its new circumstances by teaching it to naturally produce those feel-good chemicals that were sought artificially in drugs. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, providing feelings of happiness and well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, just 30 minutes of exercise per day is enough to affect a positive change in mood.

4. Increased Energy

You may be expending plenty of energy when you run, swim, or ride a bicycle, but you will also receive energy in exchange for your efforts. If recovery has left you feeling tired and lethargic at times, regular exercise is one of the ways that you can put some spring back in your step.

5. Stronger Immune System

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health reports that getting regular exercise helps protect your body from certain serious conditions such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, depression, diabetes and osteoporosis.

6. Prevent Relapse

Perhaps the greatest incentive to get regular exercise in addiction recovery is that regular movement can help prevent a return to alcohol or drug use.

A collection of studies suggest that regular exercise can increase the abstinence rate for substance use by 95 percent.

These studies also found that exercise can help manage stress, depression and anxiety, which can all contribute to substance use.

What Role Does Exercise Play in Recovery?

There are tested and proven correlations between exercise and alcohol recovery. Research shows that exercise releases endorphins to the body, creating a natural high. These are the same type of endorphins people have released when they are abusing substances.

By exercising during recovery, it helps a person reintroduce healthy endorphins back into their body.

According to a study done by Frontiers in Psychiatry on the National Institute of Health, “Accumulating evidence shows that exercise influences many of the same signaling molecules and neuroanatomical structures that mediate the positive reinforcing effects of drugs. These studies have revealed that exercise produces protective effects in procedures designed to model different transitional phases that occur during the development of, and recovery from, a substance use disorder.”

In another study performed on rats, researchers offered the rats a dispenser with various drugs such as nicotine, morphine, and amphetamines.

The rats that used the wheel and exercised, hit the dispenser far less than those that did not exercise at all.

Thus suggesting that exercise can play a very active role in offering a healthy alternative to abusing substances.

What Exercises Are Best for Someone in Recovery?

There is no one-size-fits-all for exercise, whether in recovery or not. Everyone enjoys different methods of getting their sweat on and there truly is no right or wrong way to being more active.

Addiction recovery activities most commonly include the following exercise options but will vary the rehabilitation facility:

  • Yoga
  • Cardio
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Aerobic Classes

Treatment facilities offering exercise options typically allow their patients to choose the activity that best suits their preferences. In all reality, any sort of physical activity is beneficial to recovery.

Exercise as a Potential Treatment for Drug Abuse

While it cannot be the sole treatment, there are studies that suggest regular exercise is a potential treatment for drug abuse. Exercise, when combined with other proven forms of addiction treatment, has been shown to produce protective effects in addiction recovery tied to the neurobiological and behavioral outcomes of physical activity.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, the addiction recovery programs at The Recovery Village combine traditional and holistic therapies to create a comprehensive addiction treatment program. Our addiction experts can help you break free from harmful substances and learn a new way to live. Contact us now to find out more about treatment options.

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The Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Using Exercise to Aid Alcohol and Drug Recovery

Making the choice to seek treatment for your addiction is a huge first step. Addiction recovery is a long and arduous process, but the light at the end of the tunnel is worth it. 

But what are some of the best ways to aid your recovery?

While medication and therapy are important resources for addiction recovery, many experts also recommend exercise to help people get and stay sober from drugs. The benefits of exercise for mental health don’t exclude drug abuse. 

If you’re seeking drug addiction recovery and you want to learn about exercise as an alternative treatment, we’re here to help. Keep reading to learn all about how exercise can help your treatment and keep you on a sober path. 

What Causes Addiction In the Brain?

The first occurrence of drug use is almost always voluntary. This means that there’s nothing in the brain that drives you to use that drug. While mental illness and other stressors factor into that decision, there’s no chemical reason for your brain to choose it.

This isn’t to say that addiction is a choice. It’s a mental illness.

When someone uses recreational drugs, their brain floods with dopamine. This dopamine rush is extreme enough that it overtakes other things that would otherwise make the person feel good, friends and family, exercise, hobbies, and anything else that causes a happy feeling.

In other words, the euphoria is too strong for the other feelings to compete with it. 

As substance abuse continues, these good feelings from the drugs fade away. The person develops a tolerance and needs more and more of the substance to feel normal. 

Even when normalcy is no longer achievable, the person can no longer function without the drugs and they may go into withdrawal from the time they stop using until they get their next fix.

The scary and uncomfortable withdrawal process is one of the things that prevents people from seeking treatment. 

What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Exercising? 

While not as strong as recreational drugs, exercise is one of the things that make your body feel good. 

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals in the brain. opioids, they react with the opiate receptors in the brain. 

They reduce stress and pain and create a feeling of well-being for the person exercising. You may notice that after you work out or play a sport you feel more energized rather than less, even if your body is exhausted. 

Endorphins are related to our reward circuits, just recreational drugs are. They allow us to go through our days despite any pain or discomfort that we may be feeling. Studies show that endorphins reduce anxiety and stress, making them a good alternative to drugs.  

Endorphins may also help with self-esteem, giving the person in recovery more drive and self-faith in their ability to move beyond their addiction. 

What Kinds of Exercises Are Good for Addiction Recovery? 

With all of this information, it’s easy to see why exercise is used in addiction recovery programs. After the initial withdrawal wears off and the recovering person is able to begin to detach chemically from the drug, they can start triggering their pleasure centers with endorphins rather than depressants or stimulants. 

While this isn’t a 1-for-1 exchange, endorphins make the transition from addiction to recovery easier. 

But what kind of exercises are good for releasing endorphins and recovering from addiction? In short, all exercise will help. Anything that releases endorphins can help with recovery. There are other factors that may make some forms of exercise extra helpful. 


other exercises, skateboarding releases a flood of endorphins from your physical activity, but this isn’t the only way that it helps. Endorphins are also released when you complete a difficult task or learn a new skill and both of these things are inherent with learning to skateboard. 

Skateboarding is also social. When people create meaningful relationships, those forged over shared interests, they may feel less inclined to use drugs. 

It also teaches you to be persistent, a necessary quality in anyone going through recovery. 


Surfing has some of the same benefits as skateboarding when it comes to recovery. Alongside the physical endorphin rush, learning to stand on a suroard and ride ways teaches persistence and releases feel-good hormones when you succeed.

Surfing may also bring about a rush of adrenaline. Many people use stimulants to get a rush of adrenaline, making surfing a good alternative. 


Golf is a slower sport, and it’s great for people who aren’t physically able to surf or skateboard. the other sports, golf releases endorphins when you achieve a certain skill ( getting a hole in one) and when you walk around outside.

The sun may also help with your mood. Research says that being out in nature may reduce stress and depression. 

Yoga and Pilates

Many people use yoga for its mental health benefits, and it’s another form of exercise that’s good for people who can’t tolerate the balance and high-impact nature of skateboarding or surfing. 

Yoga isn’t just about physical exercise. A good yoga instructor teaches you how to breathe in a meditative way (otherwise known as yogic breathing). This enacts a parasympathetic response or a response that causes relaxation. 

Yoga also increases mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you “get your head” and focus on the moment which reduces anxiety and stress.

For someone who wants more physical exertion without the impact, pilates is a good alternative to yoga. It also requires control and mindfulness as you move your body and engage your muscles, but it may build more strength and provide more of a distraction than yoga.


Cardio is one of the most popular forms of exercise for improving mental health. The harder the workout, the more endorphins get released. While all exercise is good for you, cardio is enough of a challenge that your body responds well to it. 

Many people are familiar with the runner’s high that follows a good cardio session. It comes from that flood of endorphins and the feeling of achievement that follows energy exertion. 

Drug Addiction Recovery Through Exercise Is Possible

There are many kinds of therapy that help with drug addiction recovery, but exercise is one of the best natural methods to rewire your brain and set you on a healthier path that lasts a lifetime.  

Choosing exercise for your recovery doesn’t just heal you for your recovery period. It gives you a new thing to latch onto that hits all of those opiate receptors without the negative health effects.

Are you looking for a treatment center that incorporates exercise into your addiction recovery? We want to support you. Contact us to learn about our programs. We’re here 7 days a week to help you on your journey to recovery.


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