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The Power of Running for Addiction Recovery

Posted on June 8, 2020

The Power of Running for Addiction Recovery

Running can be a great activity to establish a clear frame of mind and detoxifying with a natural and healthy activity that the body will enjoy. All of these reasons and more make it a fantastic choice for those suffering from the plight of mental and physical conditions. Running is also beneficial in addiction recovery.

Addiction happens when dependence upon the reward effect that a drug has on the brain forms over time, and because running releases endorphins within the brain, it may help to counter these urgings and cravings. Not only this, but it also gives the patient something to focus on other than drugs as well as positive goals and future objectives for progress to set their mind upon.

Your Brain on Running

As is well understood, addiction is a sickness that takes place within the chemical balance of the brain, and there is much evidence to support the notion that running and physical aerobic activity can support this key area of the body.

Dependence on a substance is likely to take place within the brain’s regular neurological processes, including creating a dopamine imbalance and causing the deregulation of glutamate (which are both highly responsible for memory and learning).

New research is showing there is a strong correlation between these central processes and the positive impact that regular exercise like running can have to rebalance neurotransmitters and repair the brain while also alleviating cravings and urges.

Several people, including smokers, have found relief from their symptoms by turning to running to create new healthy habits and establish a foundation of strength for overcoming unwanted impulses.

How ‘Runner’s High’ Can Help Overcome Drug Addiction

When a runner decides to push themselves to run harder or go further, it isn’t uncommon for them to experience a phenomenon commonly referred to as “runner’s high”. One very common theme among those who suffer from addiction is that they do not experience pleasure or rewards in the same way as non-addicts.

This can lead them to want more and more ways of experiencing pleasure and activating their reward centre within the brain, which runner’s high can help them accomplish in a safe and completely natural (and non-habit-forming) way.

The Role of Dopamine

It may come to the surprise of many that running and addiction actually have one thing in common – dopamine. Studies conducted using animals have shown that those who engage in regular activity and exercise are less likely to tap a lever for morphine than others.

By releasing dopamine into the brain by running, it’s strongly surmised that the same level of control over addiction may be duplicated within humans, working to satisfy cravings and create more favourable conditions for the body to exert control over the disease.

As with other exercises, running can help to actively decrease stress and anxiety, common factors that helped to keep victims within the throes of addictive behaviour. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression are two of the most commonly found mental health disorders among the adult population. [1]  As a result, they are highly likely to be part of a dual diagnosis for the struggling addict.

12 Steps vs 12 Million

While running to cure addiction may not be a solution for everyone, they may respond very well and find it to become a core part of their recovery process. Many people will find the classic 12-step recovery process presented by Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous to be a thorough and sufficient framework, but not everyone will respond in the same way.

Some may desire to adhere closely to the 12-step process without the need for anything else, while still others will seek out alternative or additional strategies for helping to achieve their goals.

Adding regular running to an overall recovery plan can be a great way to bolster efforts by addressing addiction from a physiological angle, while AA or NA can give support to the psychological and self-disciplinary sides of the equation.

Also, if someone isn’t finding the level of success or support, they need from traditional therapy methods, turning to running can be a great way to try a new approach or see if there’s a more effective way forward.

Benefits of Running for Addiction Recovery

Aside from the obvious chemical benefits that take place within the brain while running, there are also numerous advantageous side-effects that go along with sticking to a running schedule that can help addicts return to a normal and healthy way of life.

One of the same reasons that make Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous such a popular and renowned program for aiding recovering addicts also can be obtained through a recurring running habit.

This is the fact that it provides structure, fills up empty time, and helps keep the victim-focused on the main objective and end goal – sobriety. Running can help the recovering addict find new friends, enjoy a new hobby, and speed up the healing process by restoring the health of the body and brain.

Finding Motivation

The transition from addict to sobriety can seem a sudden or even dramatic lifestyle change for some, and taking up running for addiction recovery can be a great way to make this process easier and less stressful. It’s important to consult with a qualified and certified physician prior to embarking upon a new regular running routine.

It need not be overly complicated or difficult, simply commit and stick with it. Starting out could be as easy as beginning with regular walks around the neighbourhood, and then progressing from there. Finding a partner to run with can be a great way to support and maintain your new habit while running 3-5 times per week is usually an ideal any to make the best possible progress.

While beginning a new running program is great, the fact that approximately 70% of people who start a new fitness program end up quitting soon after [2] should impart the importance of staying motivated and determined to succeed. This is partially due to the fact that unlike drug use, satisfaction is not instantaneous, and it can take a number of weeks before results are seen or felt.

For this reason, the first two weeks of your new running schedule are perhaps the most crucial, as they are some of the hardest and slowest of all, and will require nearly all of this time period for the body to transition into a more active lifestyle and begin reaping the rewards of regular running.

Running Tips for a Recovering Addict

Many people have reported that running on a consistent basis brings about clearer-headed thinking that can help in numerous areas of life. Feeling in control and having improved self-esteem also contributes to the overall effectiveness of running as a way to rebound from an addiction.

All of these factors can help to promote a lower risk of relapse and encourage sobriety – if it’s approached in the right way. Stay away from running past places that could trigger an addictive response (such as bars or drug houses) and keeping things positive by not pushing yourself too hard, especially in the beginning.

Is it Best to Combine Exercise with Other Addiction Treatments?

Including regular or daily running alongside other treatment plans or medication, regimes can be a wonderful way to boost your odds for success and tackle the recovery process from multiple angles. Trying different things and applying what works best can be a great way to emphasize what works and focus less on what doesn’t.

Each person is unique and will find their own path toward sobriety, by giving the body and brain the best opportunity for recovery means taking a proactive approach toward getting results.

For more information on the ways that we can support you, visit our addictions counselling page today.

Effects of Exercise During Withdrawal

Confronting the symptoms and problems of withdrawal are made more tolerable with continued running and exercise, such as negative digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension, and more.

Also, running helps to mitigate the intensity and severity of mental health conditions that can include anxiety, depression, and others. [3]

These effects show a strong potential to counteract the unwanted impact of withdrawal from heroin, cannabis, nicotine, cocaine, alcohol, and meth. With sustained effort and focus, running can help to mitigate cravings, improve mental well-being, and promote a more positive mindset and outlook.

Exercise for Relapse Prevention

Recovering from alcohol or drug abuse is a continual struggle, but running regularly can improve the dopamine pathways within the brain that are being repaired throughout the recovery process. This can significantly help to take the “edge” off of many withdrawal symptoms, easing pain and helping the subject to stay focused on what matters most.

When you feel better due to your exercise habits and abstinence from drugs and alcohol, you know you are winning the battle against withdrawal because recovery is about making your body and mind healthy once again.

Potential and Limits of Exercise in Addiction Treatment

Benefits of mood, withdrawal symptoms, and the overall state of mind make regular running or exercise a potentially extremely powerful tool in the arsenal of a recovering victim of addiction. Winning the war on withdrawal has a great deal to do with how the person feels, and it’s well understood that staying active and engaging in cardiovascular activity over a sustained period of time can truly do wonders to help someone feel at their very best. [4]

While it may not be for everyone, running can be an incredibly effective way to assist in a well-rounded and comprehensive approach to ridding the body of the effects of addiction and getting back to a healthy and drug-free way of life.

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