Olivia Kibaba
March 24, 2023

How Nutrition and Exercise Can Help Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a complex disease that affects not only the mind but also the body. That's why addiction treatment must address an individual's whole body health. The holistic addiction treatment model takes into account the whole person - their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being - rather than just treating the addiction itself. It recognizes that addiction is a complex issue that affects all aspects of a person's life and that successful treatment requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all of these aspects.

One key aspect of the holistic addiction treatment model is integrating exercise and nutrition into the treatment program. Exercise and nutrition can play a crucial role in supporting recovery from addiction. Exercise can help to improve physical health by promoting cardiovascular health, increasing muscle strength, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It can also help to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common co-occurring disorders among people with addiction.

Nutrition is also an essential component of holistic treatment. A healthy diet can help to support physical health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and improve mental health. Many people with substance use disorders have poor diets or unhealthy eating habits. Incorporating nutrition education and healthy food choices into addiction treatment can help to improve overall health and support recovery.

This article will examine how malnutrition and substance abuse go hand in hand. We’ll also cover the positive health benefits of exercise and eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, especially for those in the early stages of addiction recovery.


The Importance of Exercise in Early Recovery

Exercise can be an effective tool in addiction recovery. It provides a range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits that can help individuals in the early stages of recovery manage the challenges and stressors that come with sobriety. Many treatment centers incorporate exercise into their programs for this very reason.

Substance abuse changes your mind and body chemistry. Even after treatment, you may still feel depressed, anxious, and sensitive to major stressors. But physical activity can help you shift the tide on those negative emotions. 

In one study, regular swimming reduces the voluntary consumption of morphine in opioid-dependent rats. In another study, access to a running wheel reduces the self-administration of cocaine in cocaine-dependent rats.

Another small study analyzed an exercise program provided to 38 participants with substance use disorders. These participants agreed to participate in group exercises thrice weekly for 2-6 months. 20 participants finished the program. And in the follow-up a year later, 5 had maintained sobriety, and 10 said they had reduced their substance abuse.

Here's how exercise can help addiction recovery: 

  • Stress reduction: Exercise can help reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins, natural chemicals that promote happiness and well-being. It also helps ease other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These withdrawal symptoms are common during recovery and can lead to relapse. 
  • Better sleep: Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of sleep disorders. This is crucial at this stage of your recovery, as you may have experienced disrupted sleep patterns because of your addiction. By promoting better sleep, exercise can help you feel more rested and better equipped to handle recovery challenges.
  • Improved mood: Exercise can help improve mood by increasing serotonin levels, another neurotransmitter that promotes happiness and well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, doing at least 30 minutes of exercise daily for 3-5 days a week may significantly improve anxiety or anxiety symptoms.
  • Increased energy: Regular exercise can help increase energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue. Regular exercise can boost your energy levels and keep you charged if you're feeling sluggish or tired lately.
  • Stronger immune system: Exercise can help strengthen the immune system, reducing the risk of infections and illnesses. It can be a great way to promote your overall health and well-being, especially during recovery. 
  • Prevent relapse: Regular exercise can help individuals in addiction recovery stay focused on their goals and avoid relapse. By providing a healthy, positive outlet for stress and negative emotions, exercise can help you build resilience and cope with the challenges of recovery. Over time, exercise can become an important habit that supports long-term sobriety.

Exercise programs may include various activities like yoga, walking, swimming, or weightlifting, tailored to the individual's needs and interests.

The Importance of Nutrition in Early Recovery


Nutrition also plays a crucial role in early recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Drugs and alcohol abuse can cause various nutritional deficiencies and digestive issues that can lead to both physical and psychiatric disorders. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a healthy and balanced diet to support the recovery process.

Here are some ways in which addiction can affect nutrition and diet:

  • Nutritional deficiencies: Substance abuse can lead to depleted levels of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and fats. This can result in physical problems such as weakened immune systems, weight loss, anemia, and other health issues.
  • Digestive issues: Substance abuse can also cause digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, and nausea, further impacting nutrient absorption and digestion.
  • Unhealthy eating habits: People with addiction may develop unhealthy eating habits such as binge eating, skipping meals, or consuming junk food, contributing to poor nutrition, eating disorders, and further health problems.

Maintaining a balanced diet with whole foods, including complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, can provide the body with the necessary nutrients to support recovery. It is also crucial to avoid processed and sugary foods as they can lead to inflammation and other health problems. Healthy eating habits can:

  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Rebuild damaged organs and tissue 
  • Regain the proper functioning of various systems in the body, like the nervous and gastrointestinal systems
  • Increase energy levels
  • Regulate blood sugar levels
  • Improve mood
  • Reduce the risk of relapse due to fatigue or depressed mood

Supplements may also be necessary to address specific nutrient deficiencies. Consulting a health care professional, like a nutritionist, can help determine your nutritional needs during recovery. 

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