Exercise and Addiction Recovery

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  •  promotes the formation of blood vessels in the brain
  •  forges connections between cells
  •  enhances repair of neural tissue
  •  generates new neurons in memory-formation areas.

Through its actions on hormones that affect the nervous system, exercise also improves TOLERANCE OF STRESS.  This is an observation that is particularly intriguing given the links between stress and drug abuse.

How Exercise Helps the Recovery Process from Substance Abuse/Addiction

Many who abuse drugs or alcohol neglect important components of daily health, wreaking havoc on both emotional and physical well being.

It is important to repair the psychological and physical damage of chemical dependency as well as the damaged mind-body connection.

Exercise in chemical dependency treatment serves many purposes, but there are some primary benefits one can get from exercise during substance abuse treatment and recovery.

  • Exercise relieves and reduces stress.
  • Exercise naturally and positively alters your brain chemistry.
  • Exercise is meditation in motion.
  • Exercise improves your outlook.

In addition, regular exercise fosters improved:

  • Sleep
  • Greater energy
  • Enhanced feelings of well being

All of these make life much more manageable and enjoyable and recovery that much more possible and sustainable.


Researchers now think there are at least two systems for rewards involving the neurotransmitter, dopamine:

  • One, described as the “liking” system, is stimulated on receiving a reward, incorporating dopamine’s originally conceived role.
  • The other, the “wanting” system, motivates behavior in pursuit of a reward, which explains why dopamine rises in anticipation.

Neuroscientists say the balance between these systems can be altered by drug abuse to the point that the wanting system dominates the liking one.

Serotonin also plays a prominent role in the way hallucinogens act on the brain, greatly increasing serotonin levels in certain brain cells.

Hallucinogens are serotonin “agonists,” which means they are molecularly similar enough to serotonin to dock with serotonin receptors.

Large increases in serotonin levels have also been measured in users of ecstasy.

Ecstasy appears to push the serotonin system into overdrive by interfering with serotonin mop-up transporters, similar to the way cocaine affects dopamine.

Elevated serotonin causes short-term euphoria but depletes it in the longer-term. Chronic ecstasy users, for example, were found to have 50%-80% lower concentrations of serotonin.

Aerobic exercise have a neurochemical basis.


  • Reduces stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol
  • Reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
  • Stimulates the production of neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids (aka feel good chemicals), the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
  • Increases body temperature which can have a calming effect.

Psychological and emotional benefits of exercise:

  • Gain confidence.
  • Get more social interaction.
  • Take your mind off worries.
  • Cope in a healthy way.

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