On almost every addiction or drug abuse website, experts tell you that a healthy exercise or physical activity program will increase your chances of staying clean. Today, I want to talk about how exercise combats withdrawal symptoms from addictive substances. I will be speaking in general terms, and not about a specific substance. This means that you can learn about how exercise can help you recover from many different types of addictions like drugs, alcohol, nicotine or even sugar.
Exercise stimulates dopamine secretion
Dopamine is a happy hormone, used by your brain to give you a sense of reward. Dopamine is meant to make sure that we do what is important for our survival (like eating enough food, and eating sugar-filled fruits and vegetables, staying warm in cold temperatures, connecting with other beings, getting enough rest and relaxation, being successful and having sex). The dopamine release is actually what makes us enjoy certain activities, like eating sugar or cuddling up to someone we like.
Unfortunately, addictive substances take advantage of our dopamine-release systems and over-use them. This makes us go back for more. Since addictive substances trigger greater dopamine releases than usual, we feel deprived until we can repeat the same activity. Our brains slowly adapt to the substance’s effects and we end up needing more of the specific substance in order to get the same amount of dopamine release. Our brains also adapt to the amount of dopamine released during these activities by decreasing the effectiveness of dopamine in general. This is why people who are addicted to a substance struggle to enjoy the other aspects of live without their specific vice.
When you try to quit an addictive substance, you will feel deprived and depressed because you are missing the dopamine release from that specific substance. Exercise helps in this regard because exercise stimulates dopamine secretion. By getting a good (but natural) flow of dopamine via endorphins from exercise, you can ease the sense of depression and deprivation that you get from substance withdrawal. Did you know that positivity also increases dopamine release?
Exercise detoxes your body
The connection between detoxification and withdrawal symptoms has always fascinated me. I did not really understand how getting a substance out of your system as quick as possible would speed up the withdrawal process. According to my own logic, the faster a substance leaves the body, the heavier the withdrawal symptoms would be. After some research, I found out that the body goes through two types of withdrawal. The first one is where your body tries to eliminate the toxins from a particular substance. This is true even for sugar – did you know that your body needs more water when you eat a lot of sugar because it uses that water to balance out the excess? In any case, the body’s attempt to detoxify itself is what causes a lot of withdrawal symptoms. This manifests itself in physical symptoms such as profuse sweating, diarrhea in some cases, pimples and skin breakouts and increased thirst. Rehabilitation centers use detoxification methods because they decrease the amount of time that the body goes through this process. Detoxification methods assist the body to move past this crucial stage.
Exercise is a great form of detoxification for a variety of reasons. Activation of muscle tissue and an increased heart rate stimulates the removal of the toxins in body tissues, while improving the delivery of nutrients that are needed for recovery. The increased blood circulation increases the removal of toxins via the bloodstream. Sweating allows toxins to be removed from the skin as well and increases the liver and kidneys’ detox ability.
Exercise improves the body’s overall well-being
We’ve discussed the first part of withdrawal: detoxification. The second part of withdrawal happens after detoxification. Once the toxins are removed, the body needs to learn to re-adapt to a life without the addictive substance. Besides the dopamine-stimulating effects of an addictive substance, there are other things that make it addictive. It becomes addictive by causing an imbalance in your body. Your body adapts to this by re-balancing itself. Once the body has adapted to the imbalance caused by the addictive substance, it will feel imbalanced whenever it does not have that specific substance. Re-correcting this imbalance takes a lot of time and energy. The healthier you are (and the more energy your body has), the easier it will be for your body to re-adapt.
Since exercise increases your body’s overall health, it indirectly speeds up your body’s ability to adapt to a life without the addictive substance.
Exercise provides an alternative
This benefit can be very easily overlooked, but shouldn’t be. We have spoken about the physical effects of substance addiction, but addiction is also psychological. Mentally, you will feel deprived without your desired substance and exercise can give you something to do in its place. It is easier to replace one habit with another. Exercise can also give you something else to think about. Distraction is a great tool that can be used in overcoming addiction. Exercise provides a sense of accomplishment. This will give you a reason to feel good about yourself and it will give you something to feel good about when everything else seems to be falling apart.
Depending on the substance, cravings last for a certain amount of time. Nicotine cravings, for example, last for 10-20 minutes on average. By going for a walk or run during a craving, you can do something productive while waiting for that time to pass.
I do not, in any way, claim to be an expert on substance addiction. If you need help, please contact Help Guide or see your doctor immediately.
I hope that you learned something useful while reading this post. As always, feel free to like, comment on, reblog or share this post. Have great day!