Overcoming substance abuse and addiction is one of the greatest struggles we can face as individuals.
Opioid addiction affects over 2.1 million people in the US. It has the ability to leave individuals feeling alone and powerless. Substance abusers use a huge variety of techniques to overcome addiction, but some of the most effective are also the most basic.
Keep reading to find out how to conquer addiction through exercise.
Realigning Your Mentality
One of the first ways exercise can help with addiction lies in the way it reframes your thinking.
Substance abusers often have a long history of negative thinking. Their brain has spent a large amount of time under the “control” of something other than their conscious thoughts.
Exercise changes this by providing a flow of thought into action. It becomes clear that the individual can choose to take action and see that action play out through an effort of will.
This is in direct contrast to the pattern of addiction, which reinforces negative and fatalistic thinking.
Setting Reachable Goals
Climbing out of the deepest pits of addiction can seem like a struggle toward an invisible speck of light. It’s hard to see where the end-point lies.
With exercise, almost anything can be a milestone. You can set goals from getting out for a jog every day to gaining X amount of muscle mass and anything in between. That retrains your brain to set and meet reachable goals and break distant ambitions down into everyday realities.
That’s an invaluable skill for the addicted brain to learn. It shows that achieving anything is a matter of achieving many smaller steps. You can’t solve any major problem all at once — inching toward daylight is the only way to climb out of the pit.
This also establishes the power of positive reinforcement. By celebrating your achievements rather than bemoaning your failings, you start to see the world in a different, empowering way.
Displacing Opioid Addiction
While addiction is a product of the body and mind, it also has a strong behavioral component. A common example lies in smoking, where smokers often miss the “ritual” of smoking and discover a sense of pent-up energy without it.
Exercise for addiction helps alleviate this behavioral component by turning the pent-up energy into the dynamic energy of exercise. Your exercise regime can also replace the ritual in a literal sense by occupying the same mental “spot” as a regular, comforting activity.
Reduce Stress in Recovery
Exercise is one of nature’s big reliever of stress in early sobriety, making it an effective weapon against society’s modern stress epidemic and all the behaviors, like addiction, that emerge from it.
Stress reduces our ability to tolerate attacks on our willpower. As we grow more stressed, we’re more likely to give in to cravings or “treat” ourselves to work through it. In the case of someone kicking an addiction, this can mean a relapse.
By reducing stress through exercise, a former addict can shore up their willpower. Recovering from addiction is the repetition of a single question: “Can I overcome?”. The better you equip yourself to answer “yes”, the more times you’ll do it — and the more likely you’ll kick the addiction altogether.
Improving Sleep Efficiency
Science shows us that exercise helps us sleep better every night. That’s not surprising. We evolved for movement and our modern lives often constrain that movement. That leaves us with an excess of physical energy (if not mental energy) by the end of the day.
A lack of sleep can cause a wealth of knock-on effects. It damages our physical and mental wellbeing, reducing our ability to resist temptations. It also negatively impacts our mood.
Sleep forms the bedrock of our day, an aspect of our life on which all else depends. By cleaning up your sleep, you can clean up your life.
Strengthening Your Body
It’s no secret that withdrawal can play havoc on the human body. As with diseases, a stronger body is often better placed to resist the impact of withdrawal symptoms.
If you’ve been struggling with opioids, your body might be paying the price. Opioids can have a dramatic impact on the liver and digestive system, which in turn can affect your overall health. Building your physical health back up forms a key part of returning to a normal life.
Studies tell us there’s an innate link between mental and physical health. By strengthening the body, you’re removing physical stress. This improves mental resistances to addictive impulses.
Feelings of Achievement
Perhaps one of the most overlooked interplays between exercise and addiction lies in the sense of achievement exercise can enable.
Overcoming addiction is a process with little feedback. At any point, addicts feel they might relapse in the span of a weak five minutes.
Meaningful milestones can help addicts overcome their feelings. Through exercise, individuals can hit their own targets and discover a system of positive rewards in stark contrast to the negative feedback loop of drug addiction.
The most subtle yet powerful aspect of overcoming addiction through exercise lies in the control exercise helps to reassert.
Addiction is a tyrannical force that steals control away from those caught in its web. The best way to deal with a lack of control in life is to take action. Much like regaining the initiative in a sport, you can stop “playing defensively” and start scoring by switching your thinking from passive to active.
Exercise switches up your thinking by showing you that you can control a surprising amount of your day if you set your mind to it. You alone can make the choice to get up and exercise. When you achieve your targets, it’s you who made it possible.
How to Conquer Addiction Through Exercise
Exercise can’t erase addiction overnight or reduce the effort required from someone looking to get clean. But it can provide new levels of focus and clarity to those wondering how to conquer addiction. In a battle of wills, these traits are invaluable and could mean the difference between kicking the addiction and relapse.
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 With 175 Americans dying a day, what are the solutions to the opioid epidemic? (2018, January 29). Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/29/175-americans-dying-day-what-solutions-opioid-epidemic/1074336001/
 Exercise & Insomnia: Natural Remedy – National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/ask-the-expert/how-does-exercise-help-those-chronic-insomnia
 Exercise for Mental Health – NIH. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/