Can Exercise Be Advantageous For Substance Abuse Treatment?

Substance abuse treatment is challenging for patients in all stages of recovery. Obviously, therapy and medications are both helpful during this time, but exercise is another powerful tool that can sometimes be overlooked. Check at these benefits exercise has to offer patients going through substance abuse treatment:

More Rapid Detoxification

The faster substances are eliminated from the patient’s body, the faster the rehabilitation progress can being. Detox time varies from person to person depending on metabolism, but exercise can increase metabolic rate considerably to help move things along. Regular exercise, particularly strength training, will encourage the development of lean muscle mass, which supports a higher metabolism around the clock. Because exercise stimulates the detoxifying organs of the body, such as the kidneys and liver, it also supports blood purification during drug detoxification.

Stress Reduction

Exercise is the ultimate stress reducer. Getting into an exercise program is a great way to drive down the stress of withdrawal and treatment. Endorphin production is increased through exercise, bringing pleasure and mood elevation to recovering addicts who may be feeling depressed and anxious. When cravings hit, engaging in intense exercise can also help patients feel better able to fight the urge to use substances.

Neurotransmitter Production

Substance abuse pummels the brain with high levels of euphoric chemicals, causing desensitization that makes it hard for patients to feel pleasure immediately after quitting. Exercise has been proven to stimulate the brain’s production of chemicals involved in calmness, contentment, pleasure and motivation. By bringing neurotransmitter levels back to normal through regular exercise, recovering addicts don’t feel as driven to get high on drugs.


Learning new life skills is one of the most important fundamentals of substance abuse treatment. For treatment to be successful in the long term, patients have to ingrain these new habits continually. Exercise is key in this process because it stimulates neurogenesis, the brain’s production of new cells and pathways. By enhancing neurogenesis, patients can solidify healthy new habits making sober living more permanent.

Improved Sleep

Patients commonly experience sleep disturbances during recovery. Exercise has been proven to improve the quality of sleep and reduce the time needed to get to sleep, so it’s a valuable tool in helping patients comply with treatment. The improved daily functioning and better mood associated with higher quality sleep can both reduce the patients desire to use drugs to enhance performance and emotions.

Exercise is an essential part of any comprehensive substance abuse treatment program. While intense exercise will bring the best results, milder activity is also beneficial. By reinforcing other aspects of treatment and also standing on its own as an effective tool for recovery, exercise should be utilized by patients and treatment centers everywhere.

Peter Wendt is writer/researcher living in Texas with his family.  He has a background in health and therapy and enjoys writing about the topics.  Wendt understands addiction can affect individuals and families.  If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, Wendt recommends getting help from a reputable drug and alcohol rehab clinic.

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