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.)

Addiction Recovery and Exercise

Addiction recovery and exerciseAlthough medicine and counseling are important aspects of recovery from addiction, plain old physical exercise is also very helpful. Addiction recovery and exercise are not often associated with one another, but studies show that addiction treatment facilities should place more importance on exercise in recovery. Exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins that help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. This natural release of “feel good” brain chemicals is not meant to be a replacement for the drug high, but rather a natural enhancement of recovery — who says recovery has to be painful, gray and uncomfortable?

There’s also a social aspect to working out, if a person goes to a gym, that can also help in recovery. Being around others who’re working toward a common goal gives a person a sense of personal and shared accomplishment, much like AA or NA. Working out produces tangible results that inspire a person to strive for more progress. Often in early recovery the pay off is some intangible “awakening” in the future. With exercise there can be an immediate reward.

Also, addicts in early recovery have sleep problems. Exercise is usually an effective sleep aid. Years of alcohol or other drug use causes much damage to the body and brain. Talk with a physician before starting a major exercise program in recovery if there are health problems, but I’m sure there’s some level of exercise that’s possible to enhance recovery. Whenever someone’s taking action in recovery to make improvements it’s good for recovery. Just the discipline of following through with an exercise program is positive and helpful in recovery.

Perhaps a combination of good nutrition and exercise is what’s needed for anyone in recovery to reach a higher level of well-being. Those in long term addiction recovery sometimes get stuck in a rut, and this puts the person at risk for relapse — maybe a good exercise program is the change that’s needed to add another dimension to recovery. I don’t think eating well and exercising are going to hurt.

Getting healthy in recovery

Addiction recovery

Getting healthy in addiction recovery

What’s often neglected in recovery from addiction is nutrition and exercise, yet physical health and wellness have a very positive effect on mental and emotional health. Getting healthy in recovery is vital. Recovery is not complete if physical health and wellness are left out of the Recovery Management Plan. Eating right and exercising generates more energy and makes a person feel better all around. Nutrition and exercise can also help boost self-esteem. This is from BradfordHealth:

1.  Exercise relieves and reduces stress. Exercise has been shown to alleviate both physical and psychological stress. Tension builds in our bodies when we’re at work, during everyday interactions, and even when we’re watching television. This tension can come from having poor posture at work or having a bad interaction with a co-worker. Moving your body alleviates this tension, and allows you to get rid of any negative emotions you have been keeping in. Focused exercise uses both physical and emotional energy, that might otherwise find unhealthy ways of escaping.

2.  Exercise naturally and positively alters your brain chemistry. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins which create a natural high. These are the same endorphins your body released while you abused substances. However, abuse of drugs and alcohol causes an imbalance that interferes with a person’s ability to feel pleasure, happiness, and satisfaction. Dedicated physical activity during treatment and recovery will help you reintroduce natural levels of endorphins in your system. This not only helps you feel better, but reteaches your body that it is capable of regulating your own brain chemistry and mood in healthy, natural ways.

 3.  “Exercise is meditation in motion.” The Mayo Clinic has described exercise as “meditation in motion,” meaning by concentrating on the physical we can experience the psychological and emotional benefits of meditation. Through movement, we can refocus our thoughts on our own well-being and forget, at least briefly, all that is going on in our lives. You may leave your work-out with a clearer mind, feeling more rejuvenated and optimistic. Finding this clarity within chaos can make recovery much more manageable.

4.  Exercise improves your outlook. Those who exercise regularly report increased feelings of self-confidence and optimism and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. This is in part has to do with the body regulating and calibrating itself during exercise, but it also has to do with feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self worth as you see your body transform and your goals reached. As you reach certain benchmarks you feel more accomplished, and reinforces the goal of continued sobriety as attainable.

Anyone in recovery from addiction can put together a nutrition and exercise plan without spending much money — the returns are immense.