Addiction recovery help by replacement

contributing author: Katie McGrath

It’s easy to see why some people search for ways to escape their everyday life. Daily obstacles and challenges are common, and sometimes, life can seem like a difficult, if not impossible, test of wills. Addiction recovery help is about finding another option.

People turn to many different coping methods, including addictive behaviors such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, or gambling (1). But many other behaviors that aren’t considered as deviant as those just mentioned can also develop unhealthy patterns, including excessive work, promiscuous or risky sex, and high adrenalin activities like car and motorcycle racing, skydiving, rock climbing, and other forms of “extreme sports.”

In fact, researchers have found that drug users and extreme sports athletes rationalize their respective involvements in very similar ways (2).

Unfortunately, if the activities are used for escape, people usually find the relief they get to be temporary. When the “high” is finished, they find their problems alive and well as life comes back at them full-force. A temporary distraction, no matter how exciting or effective (like extreme sports, alcohol, or drug use) is just that – temporary.

The idea of “switching addictions” has come up in psychological research in the past (4). The question is: Can addicts substitute their choice addiction for a behavior that is actually beneficial?

Some research suggests that they can.

Yoga is one of he activities that may help drug addicts refocus their attention

Activities like exercise (running, yoga, and such), art (painting, photography), and other hobbies (such as gardening), may provide a source of comfort for drug users looking for a way to “fill in” the void left by drugs and/or alcohol. Each of these activities may provide the repetitive, mindful, pursuit that people who are prone to addiction may seek without many of the harms and dangers.

When I stopped getting high, one of the hardest things was figuring out what to do with my free time that didn’t involve using drugs. It was what I was used to doing when I was happy, sad, or bored. Now, I would be all those things, but the drugs weren’t there. It took me more than a year to get comfortable with movies, the gym, and books as replacements for what I knew how to do best – using drugs.

Running and other forms of exercise can be useful in recovery

In future posts, we’ll go over some specific ideas for changing behavior that may be useful for addicts trying to stop. We’ll also suggest specific strategies to keep from developing unhealthy habits even in these new, more constructive habits, while keeping them long-term. Addiction recovery can be tough, but actively replacing activities can help.

Question of the day:
If you’ve quit drugs or other addiction, do you have any suggestions regarding new habits you picked up that helped you in developing a new, healthier life?

Citations:

1. Hart, A. D. When coping becomes addiction.

2. Larkin, M., Griffiths, M. D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalizing and contextualizing risk. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 14, pp. 215-232.

More CPDD Addiction research: Addiction, exercise, recovery!

Okay, this is probably the last addiction research update I will give focusing on the Reno conference. The rest of the stuff I learned will be incorporated into future posts.

I’ve written before about the relationship between exercise and recovery (see here) and I will surely write more since for me, it was a big part of the equation.

two separate studies at CPDD reaffirmed my belief that exercise can be a very useful tool in addiction recovery.

The first study, conducted in humans, examined the effect of incorporating an extensive exercise routine into a residential, as well as intensive outpatient, addiction treatment program. Their findings showed improved outcomes for participants in the short, as well as long run. These included length of sobriety, subjective assessment of well being, and more. In talking to the researcher, she seemed to believe that at least part of the effect was due to the relief of cravings achieved by allowing patients to focus on something that took effort, rather than simply sitting around.

The second, and to my mind even more interesting, study examined the effect of exercise on cocaine self-administration in rats. Researchers assigned half of their rats to a cage that had a running wheel while the others were assigned to a regular cage. the rats with the running wheel used the device to run an average of 12 kilometers a day! After a week of simply resting in their cages, when transferred to another cage for 2 hours a day, the rats who had the wheel in their cage took less than half as much cocaine as the rats who didn’t have a wheel. the “wheel-rats” were also found to run less after they began the cocaine portion of the experiment, but their cocaine-taking never got near that of the non-exercising rats. It seems that having the exercise did something to reduce the reinforcing power of cocaine.

I have a feeling that future research will show that these finding hold true for other drugs (like crystal meth, heroin, marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol) and possibly even for behavioral addictions like food addiction, gambling, and sex addiction.

All in all, research seems to be supporting the notion that exercise can play a significant role in recovery from addiction. Whether it be for boredom relief or an actual internal change in the motivating power of drugs, it looks to me as if Addiction + Exercise = Recovery !