For those in addiction recovery for drugs and/or alcohol, it is important to have a replacement for the addiction after you complete a residential program. So much time and energy is put into the addiction, that it is essential that the void be filled. Former addicts often mention that they are now runners, and it has helped change their life. Here are some of the benefits:

  • It increases mental strength – There are many challenges to face in recovery, and being mentally strong will help you get over those hurdles.
  • Physically repair your mind and body – Physical activities like running can undo a great deal of this damage. Taking care of your personal health is key in successful sobriety.
  • Fill the sudden free time on your hands – A regular running activity makes for productive time.
  • Improves self-esteem – Running can increase self-esteem that you may have lost while you were living your life of addiction. Those who finish a challenging run enjoy a great sense of accomplishment, therefore they increase their self-esteem.
  • Running makes people happy – Individuals who recover from addiction deserve plenty of happiness in their life and running is a way to make it happen. It produces endorphins which are attributed to a “runner’s high.” Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
  • Running is a way to keep your mind and body strong – You will feel calm and relaxed even several hours after running. A heart pumping and flowing blood is a healthy feeling.

Positive addiction versus negative addiction

Dr. William Glasser published a book called “Positive Addiction,” based on the premise that a negative addiction can be replaced by a positive addiction for tong-term recovery. Positive addiction increases mental strength and negative addiction saps strength from every part of your life.

A positive addiction can be anything according to Dr. Glasser, as long as it fills this criteria:

  • You believe that it has some value (physical, mental or spiritual) for you
  • You believe that if you persist at it, you will improve
  • You can do it without criticizing yourself
  • It is something non-competitive that you choose to do
  • It is possible for you to do it easily and it doesn’t take a great deal of mental effort to do it well

Runners share their feelings:

  • “Worrying and running are impossible to do at the same time”
  • “Something takes over, not just you, but a sensation of movement”
  • “There is something about most runners that makes them feel a little better than others”
  • “‘For awhile the world completely stops while I am engaging with my run”
  • “Running gives me all the self-confidence I will ever need”

Vanderbilt University Case in study:

In 2011 researchers from Vanderbilt University performed a study that involved researching a dozen marijuana users running on treadmills for 30 minutes, 10 times, over a two-week period. The sample test were people who consumed large amounts of marijuana.

The results showed a dramatic drop in the marijuana cravings and use of marijuana (a decrease of more than 50%) after just a few exercise sessions. Exercise was the only intervention. What’s interesting is that these people were deemed cannabis-dependent, and they didn’t even want treatment to help them stop smoking pot. The exercise alone made them cut their marijuana use by more than half.

It’s not just pot

A 2011 analysis of research revealed how exercise is a powerful tool for reducing self-administered use of a host of other mind-altering substances, including cocaine, meth, nicotine and alcohol. A 2012 study gave rats large quantities of meth. After the meth was administered to the rats; the test experiments were broken down into two groups: one was sedentary and the other ran on the hamster wheel.

The results showed that the running rats significantly reduced the meth-induced brain damage, as well as experienced a positive effect on dopamine and serotonin receptors. As for the non-running rats, the brain effects of the drug stayed in their system and they were never able to muster enough energy to even leave the cage.

Running, Matt’s drug of choice:

“I’ve abused alcohol my entire life.  Running is one of the most important parts of my recovery.” 

Matt Boston, 40-year-old of Sylvania, Ohio.

Matt, who is a husband and father of a toddler, drove home drunk last December and as an alcoholic experienced what they call “a clear moment.”  The fear of what he’d done to not only himself but his wife and family weighed on him. His response was to go into counseling to recover from alcoholism. While the counseling was pivotal in stopping his drinking, the running was the vehicle he used to maintain his sobriety.

“I’m in the best shape of my life right now,” Matt said, who just finished his first marathon (in 3 hours and 54 minutes) and hopes to qualify for the Boston Marathon one day. “I can’t say enough about the exercise component.”

And it was a former addict turned Ironman triathlete who helped Matt get, and stay, clean.

“I took my first drink when I was 13,” said Todd Crandell, an addictions counselor and founder of Sylvania’s Racing for Recovery — a fitness-promotion program designed to battle substance abuse.

After that first drink, Crandell’s life spiraled out of control for the next 13 years. “I had a plan to be a pro hockey player, but I started hanging out with kids who were doing drugs,” he said. “In my senior year of high school, I was expelled for doing cocaine on a hockey bus.”

Crandell went from being offered college hockey scholarships to a drugged-out death spiral that included heroin, meth, pot, valium and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

“At 26 I quit everything all at once,” Crandell said. “It was after my third DUI. I blew a 0.36 at noon.”

Quitting is only the beginning. It’s staying clean that’s the trick, and fitness became Crandell’s new passion.

“When I stopped drinking and doing drugs, I immediately shifted to lifting weights and cleaning up my diet.” This was followed by getting back into hockey, and he got good enough to play semipro for a while. After that, he began a running program, and this led him to complete 23 Iron-man triathlons.

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