Addiction: A Disease of the Mind & Body
Addiction is typically thought of as a disease of the mind—it affects the brain chemistry, and therefore changes the impulses, behaviors, and actions of the afflicted person. Cognitive therapy, stepwork, and meditation are some of the techniques used to treat the mind component, and it is a process that continues throughout the person’s life. On the flip side, addiction is also a disease of the body. The changes it has on one’s physical appearance are likely the most apparent and most noticeable to the outside world. For the bodily portion of recovery, we are taught to eat properly again, exercise, and relearn other healthy habits.
Addiction wreaks havoc on a person’s body. Once it has progressed far enough, hygiene and nourishment are often neglected as financial resources are primarily spent on the substance of choice. This can lead to weight loss or gain, vitamin deficiencies, digestive problems, hair loss, among others. After a medical detox, treatment centers do their best to provide clients with balanced, nourishing meals to kick-start the body’s metabolism back into gear. Nutrition is very important during these crucial first few weeks, and it is important to get back to eating regular meals.
After the detoxification process, there will be more mental clarity and understanding of the dietary problems that ensued while in the throes of addiction. Skipping meals, eating less new nutritious foods, losing important nutrients from substance induced symptoms, and your body’s natural energy level can all result. Once there is some stabilization in how you are feeling, you can begin to start thinking about ways in which your body can assist in your recovery.
Health & Exercise Regimens
According to the Harvard Medical School, many people with substance use disorders found that regular exercise distracted them from cravings, especially for those who added workouts to structure their days. Exercise can also assist with forming positive social connections, whether it be in a yoga class or in the weight room at your gym. It can also assist with the mental health component of addiction we mentioned earlier: when combined with therapy, exercise can improve treatments for anxiety and depression. Furthermore, having an exercise routine will help structure your day as you are on the road to recovery.
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These endorphins can diminish your perception of pain, as they act like sedatives. The endorphins are manufactured in your spinal cord, brain, and other areas of your body, and then are released in response to your brain’s neurotransmitters. The activation of the receptors does not lead to dependence or addiction like morphine or opiates. Keeping your body active can lead you to experience a natural high without the use of mind- or mood-altering substances. Those “feel-good” endorphins will help nerve cells make new connections and grow. As that happens, your brain will improve with an added boost to your mood.
Some other benefits of engaging in a physical fitness regimen for your mental health and sobriety include:
- Helping manage frustration and anger
- Relieving stress
- Improving cognitive function
- Promoting a restful sleep
- Providing discipline and structure
- Filling up your time
- Decreasing depression and anxiety
- Increasing confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth
Finally, if you are overweight and out of shape, you have a higher chance of experiencing depression and anxiety, which can lead to a relapse. To complicate matters, when some people recover from alcohol and drug use, they may turn to food as a coping mechanism. Weight gain is a very common problem for those in the early stages of recovery. A person in recovery eats food to cope, and that indulgence leads to weight gain. The weight gain may then decrease the recovering individual’s body image, causing him or her to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. The best way to avoid this arduous cycle is to maintain these healthy habits and keep your body feeling strong.
Workout Tips for Your Addiction Recovery
With all the studies previously mentioned, you know that exercise can aid in addiction recovery. If you are in recovery, you’ll want to add some physical fitness routines to your daily schedule. You don’t need to get a pricey gym membership because most activities can be completed at home. Remember that consistency is key! As much of early recovery revolves around a routine, incorporating a few fitness practices will be simple.
Some ideas to get started:
Stroll around the neighborhood: If you are dealing with long-term addiction, your body might feel worn-out, especially after a detox program. You might not feel like engaging in high-intensity sports. The key is to start small and build up your stamina. A short 30-minute stroll has many benefits, including helping to relax you at the end of the day. It’s also a good way to decompress and do some mindful meditation (two birds, one stone!).
- Hiking: If you can get outside, hiking can lead to a boost in your mood. Immersing yourself in nature and catching some sunshine will boost your Vitamin D. You don’t necessarily need fancy hiking gear if you don’t have the means; a pair of sneakers and comfortable clothes will do the trick. Many people start on the easy trails at a local park. If you are tired, you can always take a break and take in that nature we mentioned before. Hiking is also a great motivator if you choose a trail that leads to a pretty view—you’ll have gotten some endorphins in, and see the payoff at the end.
- Yoga: If you want a less strenuous activity, give yoga a try. This activity can double as a meditation method. There are several types of yoga to choose from, from strenuous programs to relaxing breathwork. Due to their popularity, you can find yoga classes at most community centers or gyms.
- CrossFit: This program incorporates many different types of exercise, including powerlifting, calisthenics, and high-intensity exercises. For many people, this type of activity provides many benefits; you can enjoy the competition and coaching from individual CrossFit trainers as you build strength and muscle.
- Swimming: If you want an excellent option for a workout, try swimming. This activity is easier on the body, and simply being in a body of water can be very therapeutic. You don’t even have to do any laps around the pool! If you are older, know that swimming is a great exercise that doesn’t impact your muscles or joints. Find a pool and do an hour of freestyle swimming, or join an aqua-aerobics class for some extra fun.
- Fitness boot camp: If you are looking for another high-intensity workout, you might want to try a fitness boot camp. These programs can help you build strength with group interval training. Many of the programs have a combination of pushups, running, and other strengthening activities. Along with the added mental health benefits, these workout classes can help you lose weight and improve your muscle strength.
- Group classes: If you want a workout without the intensity, you should consider a group exercise class like dancing or Zumba. Many of these programs are available at your local community center or gym. In addition to the physical benefits, you can also build friendships that will help you in the recovery process.
- Get the Proper Nutrition: While physical activity is important, you need a balanced diet for an even healthier mind and mood. As we mentioned before, food can easily be a replacement for drugs or alcohol. You want to add the right foods to your diet to maximize their benefits. Some foods have nutrients that can help you manage your anxiety or depression.
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression and diet might be related. In some studies, those who ate a poor-quality diet that was high in processed meats, chocolates, and high-fat dairy were more likely to report symptoms of depression. However, those who ate a diet rich in vegetables, fish, and fruits had less chances of experiencing depression.
According to Mental Health America, there are some foods and nutrients that you should add to your diet. Consider the following:
- Spinach, fruits, nuts, kale, and whole grains contain a high level of folate, which is associated with lowering the risk of depression.
- Diets rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, and fish are less likely to cause depression than those meals high in dairy and fat.
- Omega-3 fatty acids can help you stabilize your mood and combat depression; you can find these essential fats in spinach, eggs, flaxseed oils, and certain types of fish.
- There has been a link between low levels of vitamin D and depression. You can find high levels of vitamin D in some fish and fortified amounts in orange juice and milk.
- If you are prone to panic attacks, you might want to skip your morning cup of coffee. Caffeine is known to trigger panic attacks in those who are suffering from anxiety. Consider switching to tea or decaf coffee until you know what’s right for you.
Adding the Best Foods to Treat Addiction
Certain foods have important nutrients to help in certain stages of addiction treatment. Depending on your substance use disorder, you want to find the right foods that will help alleviate cravings and boost your recovery efforts. There are some foods that you should eat for your particular addiction:
- Alcohol addiction: With heavy alcohol use, your body will experience some nutritional deficiencies, including low levels of folic acid, zinc, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6. The lack of these nutrients can lead to issues with the nervous system and may cause anemia. As you progress through recovery, you’ll want to add zinc-rich foods like nuts, whole grains, and dark chocolate to your diet.
- Cocaine addiction: This stimulant can cause you to stay up for long periods of time without eating. In the process, you might experience multiple nutritional deficiencies. Omega-3 is very important, and you need to add it to your diet. You can find this nutrient in canola oil, eggs, dairy products, and fish. Without omega-3, you have a higher chance of heart disease and depression.
- Heroin addiction: If you are addicted to opiates or heroin, you want to add more fiber-rich foods to your diet. You can find fiber in vegetables, fruits, and some animal products. Fiber can help you reduce toxicity in the liver during your recovery process.
During certain stages of detox and recovery, your doctor may prescribe some dietary supplements. In most cases, these supplements will help you replace those essential nutrients. You also want to stick to the recommended dosage. By taking too much of a nutrient, you can actually overdose on it. For example, alcoholism can decrease your vitamin A level. However, if you add too much of that vitamin, it may cause fibrosis in your liver. Omega-3 is an excellent nutrient, but too much of it can also lead to thinning of the blood.
Supplement Your Recovery Program
It can be challenging to try to add the right foods and exercises in your daily life, especially as you recover. However, with some thoughtful planning on your part, you can maintain a well-balanced lifestyle. Diet and exercise are important, but you also need to get enough sleep as well. By getting restful sleep, you can improve brain function and reduce stress. Finally, you need to stay positive. Recovery is a long journey, but you can help reduce negativity by reflecting on your goals and accomplishments.
Many experts in the mental health and addiction recovery fields believe that fitness is essential to living an addiction-free life. By combining these healthy lifestyle changes with a balanced diet, you can create a great plan to aid your recovery process. In turn, your mental health will improve as you gain strength and fitness.
If you need any additional help with substance use disorders or mental health issues, we are here to help. Green Mountain Treatment Center and NFA Behavioral Health both focus on well-balanced treatments for substance use recovery. We can create a personalized treatment program to help you get back to a healthier lifestyle.