Addiction and the Role of Exercise in Managing It

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), less than half of world population (38.3%) actually drinks alcohol. Those who do drink consume on average 17 liters of pure alcohol annually. Moreover, the harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year. Beside, at least 15.3 million persons have drug use disorders.

These and some other statistics are quite unnerving to the friends and family members of people, who have some kind addiction.

Addiction is a chronic disorder, for which many biological, psychological, social and environmental factors are accountable. About half the risk for addiction is genetic. Genes affect the quantity of reward that an individual experiences when initially using a substance e.g., drugs, alcohol or engaging in certain behaviors e.g., gambling. A heightened desire to re-experience use of the substance or behavior, potentially influenced by psychological (e.g., stress, history of trauma), social (e.g., family or friends’ use of a substance), and environmental factors (e.g., accessibility of a substance, low cost) can lead to regular use, leading to brain changes.

The brain changes include alterations in pre-frontal cortex and sub-cortical limbic system regions involving the neuro-circuitry of reward, motivation, memory, impulse control and judgment. This leads to an increase of cravings for addiction and an impairment of the ability to control the impulse, regardless of the knowledge and experience of its consequences.

Role of exercise in managing addiction –

Most treatments for addictions involve some kind of counseling that focuses on helping the person to figure out why he or she engages in the addictive behavior.

Some studies have provided convincing evidence to support the development of exercise-based interventions to reduce compulsive patterns of drug intake in at-risk populations.

Exercise helps in the following ways:

It releases endorphins – On recovering from an addiction, one’s the body and mind misses a high feeling caused by it, resulting in depression during the withdrawal phase. Since exercise causes the release of endorphins, which acts as a natural high, especially after a good sweat session, it’s possible that working out can help an individual cope with the recovery process.

It alleviates stress – Moreover, regular exercise is a great stress buster, resulting in diminishing stress-related cravings. Therefore, sticking with exercise long-term might even diminish drug seeking behavior.

It acts as a distraction – For some, exercise might just serve as a distraction. While exercise alleviates some of the symptoms of withdrawal, it may not improve long-term abstinence.

It acts as meditation – Exercise can be described as meditation in motion. This concept underlies the ancient tradition of Hatha Yoga exercises. By concentrating on physical movements of exercise, we can experience the psychological and emotional benefits of meditation. A good workout leaves one feeling more rejuvenated and optimistic, which can make recovery much more manageable.

It improves outlook on life – Those, who exercise regularly, have increased feelings of self-confidence and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. In addition, regular exercise provides improved sleep, greater energy, and enhanced feelings of well being, thereby changing positively the outlook on life.

The Crux –

Addiction is a problem of global dimension, influenced by many factors e.g. biological, psychological, social and environmental. About half of the risk for addiction is genetic. Though counseling and treatment form the mainstay of management, regular exercise also positively influences it making its management more effective. The people, who engage regularly in exercise, are less likely to give in to the temptations of addictions even though they may be genetically prone to them.

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