Pumping the Endorphins in Addiction Recovery

Pumping the endorphinsWhat are Endorphins? The excerpt below is from Wikipedia:

Endorphins (contracted from “endogenous morphine”[note 1]) are endogenous opioid neuropeptides in humans and other animals. They are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland. The term implies a pharmacological activity (analogous to the activity of the corticosteroid category of biochemicals) as opposed to a specific chemical formulation. It consists of two parts: endo- and -orphin; these are short forms of the words endogenous and morphine, intended to mean “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body”.[2] The class of endorphin compounds includes α-endorphin, β-endorphin, γ-endorphin, σ-endorphin, α-neo-endorphin, and β-neo-endorphin. The principal function of endorphins is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals; they may also produce a feeling of euphoria very similar to that produced by other opioids.[3]

There’s medical evidence that exercise releases endorphins and can help ease depression. Exercise is routinely advised in addiction recovery. During addiction, the brain’s natural feel-good chemicals are altered, therefore, often in early recovery, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and just a general “bad” feeling make it difficult to avoid relapse. Because addiction treatment is mainly about relapse prevention, we advise our clients to use every tool available to avoid relapse.

Unless there are physical restrictions which prevent a person from exercising, it’s important in recovery to develop a regular routine of physical activity — walking, running, Yoga, weight lifting, swimming, etc. Not only does physical activity release endorphins, it’s good for the heart, it builds and tones muscle and it can boost self-esteem. Just the regular act of doing something healthy gives a person a sense of accomplishment. Below is from Addiction.com:

In addition to the chemical changes happening in your brain when you exercise, working out can mitigate the negative effects of giving up your substance(s) or behavior(s), which include sleep troubles, anxiety and depression and weight gain. Simply by improving your overall health and well-being, regular exercise builds your body back up and gives you a healthy way to release difficult or pent-up emotions, including anger, sadness and frustration.

I can personally attest to the benefits of exercise. I always feel better after a good workout. (When there’s a question about the physical ability to exercise, always consult a physician.)

Exercise and Sobriety

exercise and sobriety

Exercise and addiction recovery

Exercise and sobriety go hand in hand. As a part of addiction recovery management, exercise is a crucial element of a holistic approach. There’s research involving exercise — some researchers maintain that exercise itself can become addictive. If I’m forced to choose between heroin addiction and exercise addiction, I’ll choose exercise, although these aren’t the choices. So far there’s no evidence that exercise is harmful for people in recovery — in fact, exercise increases brain chemicals that enhance mental and emotional well-being. There’s anecdotal stories, like in the link above, of people exercising in recovery but still committing suicide — however, there are many reasons why a person would commit suicide. I don’t think we’ll find exercise as a major cause of suicide or that it’s necessarily harmful in recovery — it just doesn’t seem likely. Sure, some people might not be physically able to exercise, but that could be true for anyone, even those who have never had a problem with addiction.

An analogy can be made between the process of addiction recovery and starting an exercise regimen. Just as people in early addiction recovery might relapse several times before maintaining abstinence and developing a disciplined recovery program, many who first decide to exercise start and stop before developing a disciplined and consistent exercise program. Some never start an exercise program. If a person can develop discipline to exercise on a regular basis, this not only makes the person feel better physically, but it also helps with self-esteem and emotional balance. Relieving frustrations in a gym is not a cure-all for stress and emotional turmoil by any means, but it helps. It’s never good for anyone, in addiction recovery or not, to sit around, inactive, and dwell on life’s pressures and twists and turns without developing healthy ways to maintain mental and emotional health. I can attest to the beneficial results of exercise. When I exercise, I feel better physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

As I wrote above, there are biological reasons for feeling good when exercising, as Serotonin and other brain chemicals are produced, but just the satisfaction of developing discipline and consistently working out plays a part in maintaining a sense of well-being and accomplishment. Sometimes, if we’re physically inactive, we can become emotionally, mentally and spiritually lazy. All aspects of ourselves work together to build a synergy — at least this is what I believe. I’ve never seen moderate exercise hurt anyone, but you should talk with your doctor, or a physical fitness professional when starting an exercise regimen from scratch. There might be medical reasons why exercise is not right for some people, and some people might need a designed exercise program to meet their special needs and limitations. It’s all a part of good addiction recovery management.