Can exercise help overcome drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a public health crisis of epic proportions. Besides this, the illegal drug trade is closely associated with violent crime, and family breakdown. Many communities around the country are devastated by rampant drug addiction(which includes alcoholism) and violent crime. Virtually all of us know someone who is an addict or has someone in their family who is an addict.

The South Bronx in the 1970s. Drug abuse was a big contributor to the extreme urban decay of the South Bronx during this period. Drugs and crime are still a problem here. Photo by Mel Rosenthal, Duke University

The South Bronx in the 1970s. Drug abuse was a big contributor to the extreme urban decay of the South Bronx during this period. Drugs and crime are still a problem here. Photo by Mel Rosenthal, Duke University

Drug rehabilitation is rarely successful in the long-term, since most addicts relapse within a year or leave early. If the addict is poor, and/or has no family to support them, they all too often end up living on the streets, or in jail, or back in rehab. They are one of the most marginalized groups of people in the country, especially if they also suffer from mental illness, and are almost always unemployable. Needless to say, drug rehabilitation could use some serious improvement.

Now I am no expert on drug addiction, I have never used drugs, but not being an expert in something hasn’t stopped me from talking about it before. I often like to say that the best way to overcome a health-destroying addiction is to replace it with a good addiction. In my experience, this does appear to be work to some degree, although it is easier said than done.

Can exercise play this role, and should it be incorporated into drug treatment programs? We all know about the mood-enhancing effects of exercise, but let’s look at what our Danish friends at the Institute for Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, have to say in the study Exercise treatment for drug abuse–a Danish pilot study:

CONCLUSIONS:

The results show that physical exercise can provide important support in the treatment of drug abuse and that the main problem is maintaining change in behaviour and peer group influence to ensure long-term change.

A small study, but this sounds good to me. Even if it doesn’t help overcome addiction, exercise helps improve health in so many ways it should be included whenever possible.

I also found this very inspiring: Running for her life – Dedication carries woman beyond addiction, crime, and homelessness:

Kenyon is a recovering drug addict, a formerly homeless woman who stole from stores on Newbury Street to fund her habit, a child of alcoholic parents, a victim of domestic abuse, a convicted criminal who spent nine years bouncing between jails in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. And she is a marathon runner.

This is simply amazing. To go from being a homeless drug addict to peak physical condition to allow her to run marathons. That is resilience. Incredible resilience. I think all of us have this kind of resilience in us. It is beautiful thing, and almost magical.

So if you are out of shape, what is stopping you?

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One response to “Can exercise help overcome drug addiction?

  1. I have also heard that exercise can help those who are struggling with drug addiction. It created endorphins in your body to make you happy.

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