Exercise addiction

Healing From Addiction with Exercise

Physical movement and exercise therapy can be a powerful way to heal during addiction recovery and improve your quality of life. 

While there are enormous benefits to making physical movement part of your routine in your recovery journey, you also have to be careful about excessive exercising. There is the potential for some people in recovery to replace one addiction with another. Exercise addiction can become a real risk, as can other behavioral addictions. 

Your recovery is about finding a sense of healthy balance in all areas of your life, including those things that are good for you.

Below, we talk more about the benefits of exercise in recovery and how to avoid making it something that becomes a problem.

What are the Benefits of Exercise When You’re Recovering from Addiction?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, when you’re excessively using drugs or alcohol, it affects your mind and your body. Substance use disorders change the chemistry of your body. These changes are why it’s common to feel depressed, anxious, or mentally “off-balance” when you stop using drugs or alcohol.

Engaging in regular movement can help restore your body and brain chemistries to what they were previously. This helps with addiction and co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety. 

  • In research, animal studies show regular swimming reduces the voluntary consumption of morphine in rats dependent on opioids.

  • Access to an exercise wheel reduces cocaine use in dependent rats.

  • A small human study looked at the impact of exercise on men and women abusing different substances. Participants did group workouts three times a week for two to six months.

A year later, five of twenty participants said they were abstinent from substances, and 10 reported a reduction in substance use.

In observational and anecdotal evidence, people with substance use disorders often find exercise helps reduce cravings and adds structure to their daily schedules, whether they’re doing aerobic exercise, strength training, yoga, or other forms of exercise. 

Specific ways getting physical movement benefits recovery and mental health include:

  • Stress reduction. Stress can be a big problem in addiction recovery. When you’re in recovery, especially at first, you’re learning how to navigate daily life without substances as a coping mechanism. It can be overwhelming. Movement helps control stress through the release of endorphins and improvements in circulation. You can eventually use working out as a primary coping mechanism in difficult times or when you’re feeling any emotional distress.

  • Sleep improvements. Sleep disturbances are very common in addiction recovery. Regularly exercising helps you get more sleep and promotes higher-quality sleep as well. You can move toward a more normal sleep schedule.

  • Improved mood. Your mood is heavily affected by substances and the changes in your brain during recovery. When you move, you’re improving your mood by helping your body produce natural feel-good chemicals that promote a sense of well-being and happiness. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercising thirty minutes a day is enough for positive effects on mood. Similar benefits come with therapeutic movement and working out if you have a mental disorder. 

  • Better energy levels. It requires energy to get physical activity, but it also raises your levels. If you’re feeling tired or lethargic, being physically active can help give you a greater sense of vitality.

  • Regular movement helps prevent relapse. Looking at a collection of studies, exercising regularly increases the abstinence rate for substance use by as much as 95%.

  • Increases opportunities to socialize. Having a social support network is critical to recovery. Exercise can give you opportunities to meet and connect with other people. You might participate in group classes or invite friends to do it with you.

  • Structure your time. When you’re early in your new sober life, you have to find other ways to fill your time. You’re likely shocked with how much time seeking, using, and recovering from substances filled. Exercise therapy is a healthy habit that gives you a way to create a new productive routine.

  • Better physical health. Exercising regularly helps with weight management and chronic pain. If you have a chronic condition or medical condition like diabetes, physical activity can help you manage your symptoms and potential adverse effects. Moving your body helps with cardiorespiratory fitness and can extend your life. 

Exercise addiction

What About Exercise Addiction?


According to health professionals, the risk of exercise addiction or compulsive exercise is small in recovery from drugs and alcohol but still present. 

Sometimes people in recovery will substitute one addiction for another. This can include becoming compulsively involved in certain activities like going to the gym or even working at their job. These can be otherwise healthy activities, as long as you aren’t transferring addiction.

Your goal in addiction recovery is to live a sober life that you’re in control over rather than being driven by compulsive behavior.

Your long-term sobriety can be negatively affected if you turn to work out as a substitute for your previous addictive behaviors.

When you go to treatment and follow your aftercare plan, your counselor or treatment team will focus on creating balance in your life to avoid things like an obsession with exercise. 

What Is Exercise Addiction?


An addiction to workouts is an obsession with physical fitness that’s unhealthy. While it can result from eating and body image disorders, it can also occur in someone without a history of either. Researchers aren’t sure of the prevalence of exercise addiction or how high the risk for exercise addiction is because it’s difficult to diagnose.

If you develop an addiction to working out, your symptoms could be similar to those of your substance addiction.

Signs of drug addiction can include obsessing over exercise and continuing to do it even if it’s causing harm, like an injury. You could keep up high levels of exercise even though you don’t feel like you want to, and you might become secretive or deceptive about it. Intense exercise sessions could begin to create negative effects on your mental and physical health. 

When you’re physically active, it triggers a release of chemicals into your nervous system, leading to a feeling of reward or pleasure. You could become dependent on your body’s pleasure response.

Just like substances, the same neurotransmitters are being released as you’re physically moving your body, and when you stop, those go away. You may want to do more to trigger the same chemical release.

Symptoms of addiction or problematic exercise habits include:

  • Not being able to follow a reduced routine
  • Skipping other activities to have more time to exercise
  • Withdrawal symptoms after not working out
  • Feeling a buzz or high after you do a workout
  • Exercise addicts may have uncontrollable desires to do certain physical activities
  • Spending a lot of time preparing for, engaging in, and recovering from your workouts

If you’re experiencing problematic symptoms, talk to your counselor or therapist. There are ways to moderate your physical activity but still enjoy the benefits it brings to your mental and physical health.

If you’re early on in your recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, avoid being excessive in how often you go to the gym. Set limits for yourself that you can follow, and make sure you’re giving your body plenty of time to rest.

Getting Addiction Treatment in Huntington Beach, CA


Holistically, exercise therapy can be one of the most important parts of your recovery from addiction. However, everything in your sober life requires balance, including a healthy activity like working out. A balance in all things defines a healthy lifestyle. 

Be mindful of the potential for an addiction to certain behaviors to replace your addiction to drugs or alcohol.

If you’d like to learn more about addiction treatment options in Southern California, call 833-847-6984 and the  Silver Lining Recovery team will be able to answer any questions you might have. We can also provide information about excessive behavior in general. 

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