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Exercising is an effective strategy for drug addiction recovery

Exercising is an effective strategy for drug addiction recovery

People who are trying to leave a situation of substance abuse may feel powerless over the power of addiction, but the key to recovery is to work consistently towards breaking the cycle that leads to substance abuse. Experts at various addiction recovery services advocate that Exercising is an effective strategy for drug addiction recovery. But how does exercising is able to affect the process of drug addiction recovery?


To understand the mechanisms on why drug addiction happens, you need to know more about neuropeptides called endorphins. They are involved in pain management, possessing morphine like effects, and are involved in natural reward circuits such as feeding, drinking, sex and maternal behaviour.

In the central nervous system, beta-endorphins (one of five endorphins found in humans) similarly bind mu-opioid receptors and exert their primary action at presynaptic nerve terminals. However, instead of inhibiting substance P, they exert their analgesic effect by inhibiting the release of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, resulting in excess production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres.

The release of dopamine can also happen through exercising, as it has been proven to regulate brain function. This scientific fact is what drives addiction service centers like Elevate to create a full fitness program as an approach for addiction recovery. They believe that “in order to effectively recover from drug or alcohol addiction, mental and physical health need to be restored,” and that exercise is the best way to get motivated. So, they offer various types of physical activity, such as: crossfit, running and hiking, and other outdoor activities.

Is the reason why exercising is beneficial for recovering addicts, because it stimulates the body to release endorphins in the same way drugs do?

"It's been proven that regular exercise can improve cognitive function in the brain and also helps the body fight physical stress," wrote to EmaxHealth Jeremy Miller, Director of Public Relations at Elevate Addiction Services.

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Is there any other neurological process that is affected by exercising, which causes a similar response to drug use?

"There is a 'high' that people experience when exercising (runner's high) when the body releases chemicals in the brain that trigger a sort of euphoria in the person. We encourage exercise at Elevate because not only does it improve one's self-confidence, work ethic, and cognitive function...but also because it snaps them into a productive routine that creates natural 'feel-good' sensations both physically and mentally. It shows a person that there are alternatives to drugs and alcohol that cause these euphoric feelings without the negative consequence but rather a positive outcome. It gets the client to form new habits that produce similar results as far as a self-created euphoria that can help them deal with triggers, stress, emotional distress etc," Miller replied in a written statement.

Drug addiction: the release of Endorphin and Dopamine and why Exercising is an effective strategy for drug addiction recovery, according to a psychiatrist

This feel good process that dopamine release generates, is artificially created by the consumption of drugs and also alcohol. Christina Gianoulakis, PhD a professor of psychiatry and physiology at McGill University, said in a recent article that “One way that alcohol may influence brain function is by increasing or decreasing the release of a number of neurotransmitters, among which are the endogenous opioid peptides, in distinct brain regions important for drug addiction," However, she added that exercising is an effective strategy for drug addiction recovery, because it can increase endorphin release, reduce anxiety, and induce a general feeling of well-being.

A little more on natural ways to regulate dopamine and the benefits of regular exercise

Daily stress leads to fluctuations in brain serotonin levels, which increases dopamine levels and leads to anxiety. But Holy basil has been reported to help people maintaining normal levels of these brain chemicals. A recent paper explained that just like SSRI drugs, St. John’s wort helps to treat mild to moderate depression by inhibiting the uptake of: serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and GABA, which are interneurons that regulate emotional responses to potentially threatening stimuli and play key parts in the acquisition, storage and extinction of fear.

Besides exercising being an effective strategy for drug addiction recovery, being physically active has also been reported to benefit Parkinson’s disease patients by preventing falls through the strengthening of limbs and improvement of balance. Another study has suggested that metabolic and heart health of kids can be enhanced with just a little strenuous exercise, so 10 minutes of exercising has been reported to be a good prescription for kids health.