Research on interventions has long shown that it’s a lot easier to reshape existing behaviors than it is to stop them. Therefore, refocusing, or rechanneling, your energy into something that will improve, not devastate your life should prove easier than simply stopping addictive behavior. Addiction recovery help is often centered on stopping the usage of drugs when instead, they should focus on replacing the use with something else.
Addiction help by active replacement
Exercise has been shown to improve mood, especially in the short term (1,2) and can therefore provide the extra emotional boost many addicts need when they first stop using. An article in the Journal of Sport Psychology reveals that running can create a sense of achievement, fulfill intrinsic and extrinsic needs, and provide a natural high (3).
An activity like running can provide a respite from daily life. It can also offer a means to re-direct most addicts’ need for something to obsess about.
Taking on a long-term running goal and getting involved in some training with appropriate short-term achievement markers can help people in recovery feel as if they’re regaining some measure of control over their seemingly chaotic life. Seeing yourself able to run longer distances, faster times, and feeling the health benefits can be very rewarding.
An inspiring story in Runner’s World magazine tells the story of a father and son who did just this, conquering their drug addiction by taking on the challenge of completing a marathon.
Addiction help, not a new disaster
Importantly, a study has found that animals that are prone to drug addiction are also more likely to develop obsessive running patterns (4). This suggests that a link between these behaviors does indeed exist and underscores the importance of being mindful even when performing these more benign activities; the goal is staying healthy after all.
Keeping this in mind, there are a few simple things that will help reduce the chances of injury as you start running:
Make sure to set realistic running goals and not push yourself too far. Taking on too much too early will only lead to injury and burnout and hurt, not help your enjoyment of running.
So instead of just trying to quit, try changing behaviors that you commonly engage in into ones that are more productive.
Question of the day:
Have you found that running, or a similar form of exercise helped you kick bad habits?
If so, would you mind sharing your story?
contributing author: Katie McGrath
1. Plante and Rodin. (1990). Physical fitness and enhanced psychological health. Current Psychology: Research & Reviews, Vol 9, Spr 1990, pp. 3-24.
2. W. De Coverley Veale (1987) Physiological and Psychological Effects of Short-term Exercise Addiction on Habitual Runners, Exercise Dependence Addiction 82 (7) , 735–740.
3. Mark H. Anshel (2005). Applied Exercise Psychology: A Practitioner’s Guide to Improving Client Health and Fitness, Springer Publishing.
4. Werme, M., Thoren, P., Olson, L., Brene, S. (1999). Addiction-Prone Lewis But Not Fischer Rats Develop Compulsive Running that Coincides with Downregulation of Nerve Growth Factor Inducible-B and Neuron-Derived Orphan Receptor 1. The Journal of neuroscience, 19, pp. 6169-6174.