Guest Blog: Impact of Exercise in Addiction Recovery for Youth

This week’s guest blogger is Fiona Parascandalo of DUO, an Ontario addiction-recovery program focused on youth and the healing value of exercise. For young adults,  in particular, exercise is a key component to recovery. Learn why and how. MWM. #OYACommunity

Exercise is something that is often touted as making people happier and reducing stress, but less commonly discussed is the how the benefits of exercise can be used in the addiction recovery process. Youth especially have a lot to gain by incorporating exercise into their treatment or counseling. Exercise allows youth to take control of their journey towards to recovery, exercise also has significant impacts on the brain in there critical stage of development, and exercise is an easy practice to build into a daily routine.

  1. Exercise promotes active engagement with recovery: It is important for youth to feel in control of their recovery process and be given the opportunity to see the outcomes of their daily choices. In many treatment programs, youth are treated as passive participants and removed from making choices about their recovery or long term treatment plans. This can be damaging to the development of self-identity in a crucial stage of transitioning into adulthood. When youth engage in an exercise program as a focal point of recovery, they are the centre of the recovery process and their physical effort has direct ties to their recovery.

The purpose of exercise is to revitalize and develop the body, mind, and spirit. Initiating a fitness regime at any stage of recovery involves making a change to addiction driven behaviours and engaging in new, mindful behaviors. Exercise is an opportunity to tune out stimulus and cravings, and focus on natural sensations in the body.

As youth are developing into themselves and defining who they are as individuals, exercise provides a means to discover the underlying catalysts of addictive behaviors so that addiction does not become a lifelong issue.

  1.  Exercise stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive substances: Addiction is created in the brain by the addictive substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamines) or behaviour (i.e. sex, video games) continuously stimulating the brain’s reward centre. New pathways are created and the user begins to crave the substance that caused the over stimulation of their reward centre. For youth, this is an especially dangerous neurological dependence as their brains are at an important stage of development.

In terms of brain development, late teen and early adult years mark the time when the prefrontal cortex, involved in the control of impulses and decision-making, is maturing. Involvement in substance abuse can delay or damage this development causing lifelong struggles with reckless and irrational behaviour.

In addition to creating new pathways in the brain, establishing a regular exercise regime as part of a stringent recovery process has been shown to reduce cravings and build resistance to triggers.

This allows the youth to take control of their reliance on a substance or addictive behaviour and engage in an activity that will positively affect their future neurological development as well as overall health.

  1. Exercise can be incorporated into a daily routine: For treatment to have a lasting effect it should be easily integrated into daily life and the practices learned should be simple to recall when facing a trigger. Establishing a daily routine will allow for a disciplined approach to facing triggers that can be utilized anywhere and at any time.

For example, if first thing in the morning is when you typically have your first cigarette, switch this behaviour with a morning run or simple body-weight workout; if after school you typically use with your friends, switch this with an after school team practice or start a regular football game with your friends. While this is a simplified explanation of how exercise can be leaned on when facing triggers or cravings, it does highlight the fact that exercise is a tool that can be used by anyone to assist in the recovery process. As part of a controlled and monitored recovery process small behavioural changes can have lasting impacts.

For teens and young adults the ease of integrating exercise into their daily routines is essential to its impact on their addiction. Between the ages of 15-24 daily activities and commitments are continuously changing, and addiction can be used as a coping mechanism to deal with these changes or as a way to escape the burden of increasing stressors.

Exercise is an affordable and customizable tool that has the capability to replace the feelings of relief and escape caused by substances. Chemicals released in the brain while exercising, endorphins and serotonin, reduce stress and increase happiness.

When facing stressful or overwhelming situations, individuals in recovery can learn to rely on exercise rather than abusing a substance to improve their mood and cope with the situation. Youth have the most to gain from engaging in an exercise focused recovery program as they will learn lifelong skills that can be easily integrated into their busy schedules.

Fiona Parascandelo

DUOaddictionfj@outlook.com

www.duoaddictionsupport.ca

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