Recovering from an addiction to alcohol can be demanding and difficult, especially as you work your way back into your life and career. However, as you do, there are plenty of supports and tools you can use to help. Exercise is one of those tools because it helps you to fight cravings and offers a natural high that will make it easier for you to stay sober.
While exercise is rarely anyone’s favorite thing to do, and you may even think you hate it, it is a valuable tool for recovering from an addiction.
How Exercise Affects the Body
Exercise affects the body in numerous ways, producing chemicals known as endorphins, promoting muscle growth, and promoting changes to the immune system. The most noticeable affect for most recovering addicts is the production of endorphins including serotonin and dopamine. These are commonly known as the ‘happiness’ drugs, because they stimulate the reward center of the brain, helping you feel happy, pleasurable, and satisfied. Regular exercise boosts these chemicals, while helping the body to normalize and regulate functions including dopamine production, blood pressure, and reducing tension. This, in turn, has multiple positive effects on the body that will help you to stay sober.
As you probably know, most people enjoy drinking because it stimulates the reward center of the brain, producing dopamine and serotonin. While drinking also has numerous other affects which exercise cannot account for, exercise produces these same chemicals in smaller amounts. This will help you to feel satisfied, to reduce cravings, and will make it easier to fight cravings when you do have them.
A Healthy Outlet to Stress
Exercise produces endorphins while lowering the blood pressure, helping you to reduce stress in two ways. Moderate to heavy exercise is proven to help lower stress and help with anger management, reducing the feelings that build up behind drug and alcohol use. If you can go work out, take a Pilates class, go running or cycling, or even practice your punches with a sandbag, you have a healthy outlet to stress and anger – and you will feel less pressure to use alcohol to make yourself feel better. This is crucial because stress is one of the most well documented factors leading to addiction and relapse.
Exercise Promotes Better Health
Exercise promotes health in several ways. As a recovering alcoholic, you likely suffer from health issues such as gastrointestinal damage, nutrient deficiencies, and even poor physical health. Each of these factors exacerbate your daily stress and frustration, making it more difficult for you to recover and stay sober. By improving your health, you put yourself in control of your mood and your ability to do things that you enjoy, therefore reducing your reliance on alcohol to make yourself feel better.
Staying Busy and Staying Sober
If you attended a rehabilitation program you probably learned about HALT, an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. This acronym encompasses a mental state which includes boredom, where you are most likely to relapse. Keeping yourself busy and using your time in a constructive way helps you to fight cravings, keep yourself in a good mood, and ensures that you are actively doing something with your time rather than just thinking about using.
Building Self Esteem
Low self-esteem is prevalent in almost all forms of harmful behaviors including smoking, overeating, depression, drinking, and drug use. While self-esteem may or may not be a problem that you face, exercise can help you to improve your self-esteem, to care less about what others think, and boosts your self-perception or mental image of yourself. This can be valuable in every area of your life, helping you to be more assured, confident in your decisions, and capable. It also affects your desire to use alcohol, especially in social situations, where you may be tempted to use it to fit in or to feel comfortable around others.
Getting Started with Exercise
Most rehabilitation centers will include some form of exercise or exercise therapy to help you to start a habit of exercising daily. However, if you are starting on your own, you should take a slow approach, designed to build yourself up gradually to a level of exercise that you can sustain without wearing yourself out. As a recovering addict, you should be extra mindful of the fact that overextending yourself with too much exercise makes you vulnerable to relapse through HALT emotions.
Start out Slow – If you aren’t used to exercise, start out slow. Taking walks of 15-20 minutes is more than enough for the first week. Build yourself up slowly, at a pace you can sustain, and aim for regular exercise rather than difficult exercise. Once you’re accustomed to doing something every day, you can start to build up to a sport or more vigorous exercise.
Choose an Exercise That’s Enjoyable – Most people immediately think of running when they think exercise but not everyone likes to run. If you dread going out for a morning run, don’t. Instead, try out other activities and find one that is fulfilling and fun. There are hundreds of active exercises you can try ranging from sports like tennis and basketball to martial arts, yoga, dance, or anything in between. Find something that you enjoy doing and you will be significantly more motivated to do it.
Don’t Diet – Cutting unhealthy foods out of your diet all at once can be catastrophic to your mental health and energy. If your goal is to eat healthy while you exercise, you can work on phasing unhealthy foods out of your diet eventually, but try to build up a habit of regular exercise first. Once you’re exercising at least 5 days a week, you can work on swapping one meal a day out for something healthy, and then slowly doing the same with the rest of your meals.
Be Consistent – Consistently exercising and doing something is more important than any amount of intensive workout. If you can do 20 minutes of light yoga once a day but an hour of running once a week, the yoga is the better choice. Aim for consistency and sustainability, not intensity.
Exercise is a powerful tool for recovering addicts because it will help you in many ways. From reducing stress to helping you to fight cravings, exercise puts you in a mood and mental state where you are more likely to be able to maintain your sobriety.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, get help. Many addicts use alcohol to self-medicate for stress, emotional pain, and an inability to cope with normal life. Because addiction exacerbates existing problems, addicts often need treatment and therapy to help them recover. Seeking out a rehabilitation center will give them the help they need through cognitive behavioral therapy (or other therapy), group support, exercise, self-development, and medically supported detox.
Beginnings Treatment Centers are located in beautiful and sunny Southern California in Orange County, which has one of the strongest and most active recovery communities in the United States. Contact us today to speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors, a quick action might save your life or the life of your loved one