Life is full of temptations and challenges both large and small, and for some dealing with those challenges means turning to alcohol and drugs to escape. In many cases, this results in addiction. Addiction is not something that is always fully realized by the person experiencing it, but it is a difficult road both for the person using and those who care about them.

Making the decision to enter treatment and seek the road to recovery is a personal one, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. However, one thing that has helped many with their addiction recovery is getting regular exercise. Here are some of the ways exercise can help with addiction.

1. It Takes Time

Addictive behavior can be triggered by many things, and one of those things is boredom. Going to the gym, heading out for a run, or signing up for a community softball league is something to do. When a person’s days are filled with more purposeful activity it reduces the number of opportunities to turn to their addiction to fill the time.

2. It Provides Structure

When a person makes a commitment to regular exercise, some sort of regimen is often involved, whether it means getting up at the same time each morning to work out, setting fitness goals, keeping appointments with a personal trainer, or training for a race or event such as a 5K, an important game or a triathlon.

With a fitness goal in mind, there is less attention and opportunity for the person to use addictive substances, and often less temptation to do so.

3. It Boosts Self Esteem

Whether a person is using or not, exercise is something that is good for their overall health. By making a commitment to one’s health, and keeping that commitment, that person’s self esteem is improved as they experience success within their exercise program.

In many cases, it is a lack of self esteem that leads people toward using addictive substances because that lack of self esteem leads to a feeling that they do not have control over their lives. By exercising, and meeting fitness related goals, some of that control is restored along with their self esteem.

Additionally, meeting goals related to weight loss, overall strength, or other milestones can help the person feel more physically attractive which will help them to feel that much better about themselves.

4. It Produces Positive Brain Chemicals

The phenomenon of a “runner’s high” is no myth. It is something that people actually experience. When a person abstains from the addictive substance they have been using, their brains stop producing endorphins that have been responsible for the high feeling associated with the drug’s use.

Vigorous exercise, such as running and other aerobic activity produce these endorphins and can lessen depression symptoms that can happen with withdrawal. In addition, endocannabinoids, a substance comparable to marijuana, is also produced and may enhance the affects of the endorphins.

Another helpful chemical linked to exercise is galanin, which may diminish stress related cravings. A 2012 study in the neuroscience journal Synapse experimented with rats exposed to meth to the point where they experienced brain damage to their dopamine and serotonin receptors, and exercise had a significant effect in reducing that damage.

5. It Provides an Opportunity to Build Healthy Relationships

One challenge many people have when they are using is that many of their social connections engage in similar behaviors, and it can be tempting to fall into old habits as a way of fitting in, but engaging in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise can introduce those working on their recovery to those who do not use drugs and alcohol to excess, granting them a support system that will make getting through each day that much easier.