Addiction recovery is a multifaceted process involving four major dimensions, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): health, home, purpose, and community. One component shown to support recovery across several of these measures is exercise.
While exercise can be an invaluable tool for getting and staying sober, it can also become an addiction in and of itself. Here’s a closer look at the subject, including how to find balance when incorporating exercise into your addiction treatment and recovery program.
Exercise as an Addiction Tool
A growing body of research points to exercise as a potential treatment for drug abuse. Not only does evidence indicate that people who regularly exercise are less likely to use and abuse illicit drugs, but it also suggests that exercise can also play a protective role in helping people recover from substance use. “Collectively, these studies have provided convincing evidence to support the development of exercise-based interventions to reduce compulsive patterns of drug intake in clinical and at-risk populations,” concludes research published in the academic journal, Frontiers in Psychiatry.
Exercise has also been linked with regulating circadian rhythms which, in turn, can mitigate the disruptive effect of alcohol on circadian rhythms.
In addition to its physiological impact on human health, exercise also supports addiction recovery in other key ways. For many recovering addicts, working out every day can give their lives a critical sense of purpose. Belonging to a gym or exercise group can help recovering addicts be part of a healthy and positive community. All of these things are beneficial to the recovery process.
The Balance Imperative
A 2015 Men’s Health article shared the story of Chef Michael Solomonov, who “beat a drug addiction by finding a new, healthy obsession.” After years of struggling with crack and heroin addiction, rehab and relapses, he discovered that exercising was the best way to reset his mindset. “It’s so in the now, and one step at a time, because that’s all you can focus on—that moment,” he says of the power of a good workout.
While Solomonov is a good example of the curative potential of exercise for mind-body wellness, it’s also tricky territory when an addict starts swapping out one addiction for another — even a seemingly benign or healthy one. “Even the sacred domain of exercise is not protected from this universal truth. When a commitment to exercise crosses the line to dependency and compulsion, it can create physical, social, and psychological havoc for those among us who appear outwardly to be the very fittest,” explains Active.com.
So how do you avoid falling into this trap? Keeping watch for the signs can help you notice if you’re at risk for exercise addiction. These include:
- Missing social obligations and family events to exercise
- Giving up other interests and hobbies in order to exercise
- Feelings of irritability and depression after missing a workout
- Only feeling content while exercising or immediately afterward
- Preferring exercise to sex, good food, entertainment, and other feel-good activities
- Working out even when sick, injured, or exhausted
- Adding more exercise to fill extra time
- Being told by family and friends that you’re too involved in exercise
- A history of anxiety or depression
As with everything in life, a balanced perspective toward exercise is essential to leading a full and healthy life. If you notice that you have several of these symptoms, you may have lost your perspective on working out. Talking with a mental health professional can help get you back on track. If you think you may have a drug or alcohol addiction, or if you are afraid you’re on the verge of a relapse, treatment may also be necessary. Leading St. Louis area rehab Harris House has been providing targeted rehabilitation for alcohol and drug abuse for more than 50 years. Call us today to learn about admissions.