The Brain and Exercise in Addiction Recovery

As you can imagine, the brain is severely altered after years of substance abuse. Many illicit drugs, including alcohol, affect the parts of the brain that are responsible for reward and pleasure. Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and GABA receptors are all synthetically manipulated while using drugs, which eventually causes long-term damage that can take a lot of effort to correct. When these receptors do not function properly, it can be hard to function, leading to feelings of depression, anxiety, lack motivation, and a lack of the ability to concentrate. Feelings like these can lead to relapse if they are not addressed. Some of these symptoms can be corrected with medication, but for some, this is not the ideal route nor is it always a cure-all. Sometimes, the most natural remedies are the most effective at correcting damage that has been done to the brain’s neurotransmitters. One of these remedies is a regular exercise routine. Exercise in addiction recovery is one of the best ways to start feeling happy and healthy, and quickly.  

More and more studies are proving the vast benefits of exercise routines, not just for recovering addicts. Exercise can help treat several mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Many addiction treatment centers beginning to incorporate exercise into their treatment plan because of the significant effects it has on patients. For many, an exercise routine becomes one of the strongest pillars of their recovery program. These are some of the major reasons exercise in addiction recovery is so important:

It Alters Brain Chemistry

As mentioned above, substance abuse alters brain chemistry in a negative way. After long-term substance abuse, the brain becomes unable to naturally produce the chemicals that cause a person to feel reward and happiness. This results in a lack of motivation and feelings of depression. Exercise is one of the best ways to directly reverse these chemical imbalances and promote normal brain function. When exercising, the brain releases endorphins, similar to the way drugs do. This results in a natural high. You might have even heard of the term “runner’s high.” This is a very real phenomenon. During a heavy work out, many people begin to have a euphoric feeling. This is because it is directly triggering reward chemicals in the brain. Having a strict exercise routine can begin to heal the parts of the brain that have been damaged. It produces natural levels of these chemicals which can be easily replenished. When drugs are used, the brain is drained of these chemicals, which is not only responsible for the high but also responsible for the uncomfortable “come down” after using drugs.

Stress Relief

Exercise is proven to be extremely effective at relieving both physical and emotional stress. When we are extremely stressed, whether it be from work, school, or other life events, it can feel like we just want to break something. This is a very real feeling and can be relieved using exercise. Even hitting a punching bag a few times can feel amazing when you are extremely stressed. For those in recovery, emotional stress can build up, leading up to arguments or anger. Exercise is proven to drain these feelings and allows a healthy avenue to decompress, opposed to lashing out or bottling up anger. Exercise can also alleviate physical stress, whether it be from sitting at a desk all day resulting in back and neck tension, or from physical labor that causes body tension. Exercise stretches muscles and areas prone to tensions, leaving you feeling loose. Many people report feelings of relaxation and contentment after a heavy workout, even when they were angry or completely stressed-out beforehand.

woman doing crunches


Many studies are beginning to show the significant effects exercise has on clinical depression.Those who exercise regularly report increased feelings of self-confidence and optimism and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. This is partly due to the endorphins and neurotransmitters being triggered from work-outs but is also due to the feelings of accomplishment, pride, and self-worth as you see your body transform and have your goals reached. It can sometimes be hard for us to see our accomplishments and growth in sobriety. Exercise gives us an observable reference of self-growth. Feeling accomplished and self-pride is one of the most important parts of successful recovery.

It Can Be Meditative

Heavy work-out can be extremely meditative. All of the stress of daily life, what needs to get done, what bills need to be paid, or frustrations from your jobs all seem to slip away while exercising. When exercising you are solely working and focusing on yourself and the moment that you are in. Present moment awareness is the ultimate goal of meditation, which is why meditation in motion can be so effective. Even the Mayo Clinic describes exercise as “meditation in motion.” People often report leaving work-outs feeling clear-minded, rejuvenated, and optimistic. Finding brief clarity within the chaos of everyday life can make recovery much more manageable.

Seeking Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction

If you or a loved one has a problem with alcoholism or addiction and want to experience recovery in a thriving community with lots of people just like you, then call the professionals at Stout Street today at 866-722-7040. Our trained staff is standing by to take your call and help you in any way we can. We know how difficult of a decision this can be and we know what it takes to ensure you find your own personal path in recovery.  You no longer have to do it alone, so give us a call today and find the happy and sober life you’ve always dreamed of.