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Being addicted to something can make you lose control over yourself and your life. It’s a serious condition that leaves people in a powerless situation. However, lack of self-control is not only a psychological problem – it’s a physical condition where the reward system in the brain is not functioning as it should be.

For these reasons, rehabilitation is a long and difficult process that requires a systematic approach. For instance, simply removing the substance from the body does not remedy the body’s sensitivity to that substance. And, when life gets hard this sensitivity can lead to relapse.

To avoid that, you can try to enrich the addiction therapy with other therapeutic methods that will help you channel all the negative emotions into a healthy coping mechanism such as exercising.

Physical activity is a natural way for the body to let go of stress and nervousness because your body will start releasing endorphins – chemicals that make us feel good. This counteracts the negative effects caused by substance abuse and withdrawal symptoms.

What Is The Role of Exercising in Additional Therapy?

Typically, opioid agonists such as methadone and buprenorphine are used in SUD
(substance abuse disorders) treatment because they serve as a successful replacement for drugs. Taking opioid agonists relieves craving behavior and suppresses abstinence symptoms. However, they have a lot of side effects and sometimes can also lead to an unhealthy addiction, which doesn’t help the patient gain control over their behavior.

While looking for alternatives, scientists have recognized exercise treatment as a viable option. People who exercise regularly were found to have lower rates of SUD compared to people with less exercise. On top of that, physical activity has preventative effects on alcohol and drug abuse.

The Release of Endorphins

The reason why exercise treatment can be effective for people with SUD is that our body releases endorphins when we work out. Endorphins are a group of peptides released in our central nervous system that act on the opiate receptors in your brain. When they reach the opiate receptors they stimulate them which produces pleasurable feelings and reduces pain. This effect is very similar to how drugs affect the brain and also opiate antagonists. 

However, it is nowhere near as strong as drugs, which is why exercise treatment is considered an add-on to the main treatment for addiction.

What can you expect if you incorporate exercise in addiction treatment?

Benefits of Incorporating Exercising in Addiction Therapy

Exercise can make us feel good, but when it comes to addiction, what are some proven benefits of exercise in addiction treatment?

Here are 4 ways in which exercise can help:

  1. Exercise Suppresses Cravings

Craving a powerful desire to consume or do something. Sometimes these desires are so strong that we can’t control them, such as in the case of people suffering from substance abuse disorders. This is why the treatment includes a replacement drug or another mechanism of projecting the craving towards something less harmful.

Since exercise releases endorphins in the body and stimulates the opioid receptors in the brain, this can be a good way to trick the brain into thinking that you’re satisfying the craving.

  1. Exercise Provides Structure and Routine

Another benefit of exercise treatment is that it provides structure and routine. Having a predictable routine is a great way to curb negative behaviors and habits because they decrease anxiety. 

People with a substance use disorder will benefit from a strong structure because they’ll know they can rely on it to get them through the day.

  1. Exercise Increases Energy and Strengthens the Immune System

Yet another benefit of exercise treatment in addiction is that it strengthens the immune system. Sure, that’s great for our overall health, but for people with a substance abuse disorder, this is vital as infections are a common sight.

The body will have more energy to fight off infections and will be more resilient in general.

  1. Exercise Relieves Stress

Last but not least, exercise is great for residential addiction treatment because it reduces stress. In other words, exercise is a great way to get rid of accumulated stress that we can’t avoid in everyday day life.

The number one cause of relapse is a stressor in the patient’s environment, so using exercise as a way to cope is an awesome way to prevent stress to bring you back.

The Path To Incorporating Exercise in Addiction Treatment

While it cannot be a sole treatment, exercising as part of systemic addiction treatment is worth the try. But before you jump the gun and go for an exhausting two-hour run, there are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Every start is difficult, but for people in addiction treatment, it’s a thousand times more challenging. Starting big, such as with an exhausting run that will leave you sore for days is not the best approach. This will quickly lead to burn out and your energy will plump as your body is not ready to sustain so much stress.

Additionally, you should know that there’s no one-size-fits-all for exercise. Some people will recommend running, some lifting weights, others will say that yoga is the way to go. The truth is that there’s no such thing as “the best exercise for addiction.” You should find something that works for your body, and more importantly something that feels fun and interesting.

Having said that, group sports are usually encouraged as you’ll get emotional support from the other members as an added benefit. But, even with group sports, the activity itself can greatly vary. Rehabilitation facilities usually offer:

  • swimming
  • yoga
  • aerobic classes
  • hiking or jogging


Substance abuse is one of the biggest public health issues in the world. The statistics coming from the World Health Organization and other health organizations are staggering. Collectively, smoking, alcohol, and illicit drug use kill 11.8 million people each year, which is more than the number of deaths from all cancers.

It’s more than obvious that we need to find better ways to support people suffering from substance use disorders. In this article, we saw how incorporating physical activity in addiction treatment can be a great coping mechanism that leads to better outcomes. To learn more about faith-based substance abuse treatment options in California call Covenant Hills Treatment at 844-268-8412.