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Exercise Benefits for Recovery from Addiction

Updated: Jul 1

Exercise is a safe and effective tool in addressing substance use disorders and depression. Experts have found that brain chemicals are enhanced, and new connections are made with exercise, which provides benefits to patients in recovery as well as individuals with diagnosed depressive disorders.  

In a recent Psychology Today article, Dr. Mark Gold explains the research on exercise and addiction: “Exercising itself may build up the amount of dopamine, regenerative proteins, and other synapses. As a result, these added connections increase the quantity of available dopamine and support other brain chemicals. The end result is feeling much better.” 

Clinicians note that exercise can reduce both substance cravings and depressive symptoms, whether the activity is exercising at home, in a gym, walking, or running in their neighborhood.

Dr. Panayotis K. Thanos, Director of the Behavioral Neuropharmacology and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, expanded in the article: “Our research has proven aerobic exercise has many benefits, but it has a profound effect on dopamine and the dopamine receptor. Aerobic exercise can decrease drug-seeking behaviors, cocaine preference, cocaine relapse, and cocaine stress-induced reinstatement."

Exercise can also assist with triggers for relapse – the people, places, and things that present as risk factors for individuals in recovery. “Exercises like running in a group or club or training with a class and trainer can become a positive routine—an important activity to perform and build up a person’s social network,” Dr. Gold explained. “This change of places, people, and things is important, as key recovery axioms include avoiding triggering people, places, or things and reminding the person of drugs used when abuse formerly was an active problem.”

The article can be accessed here.

Dr. Mark Gold

Dr. Mark S. Gold is a teacher of the year, translational researcher, author, mentor, and inventor best known for his work on the brain systems underlying the effects of opiate drugs, cocaine, and food.


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