How Do Drugs And Alcohol Work?


Before we can dive into the benefits of exercise in early and long term recovery, we first need to understand how drugs and alcohol impact the body. The easiest way to understand the effects of substances in the brain is through its impact on dopamine. Although drugs and alcohol affect the brain and body differently, the most commonly abused substances impact dopamine systems. This neurochemical is responsible for a slew of different processes, most notably, pleasure, excitability, memory and movement. Whenever you use drugs like opioids, alcohol, marijuance, etc, your brain is receiving an excessive amount of dopamine through external sources. When done infrequently, your brain can remain relatively unchanged. However, after consistent use with your drug of choice, your brain begins to adapt in several ways. 


The first thing to understand is our brains are incredibly efficient. It recognizes we’re consistently receiving dopamine from an outside resource and eventually doesn’t expend the energy to produce it naturally. So when we stop taking our drug of choice, our brain doesn’t immediately start producing it again. In some cases, our brain will never be able to naturally produce dopamine to a “normal” level again. Over prolonged drug and alcohol use, people tend to notice diminished function in pleasure, excitability, memory and movement. After a couple of hours or days, we usually give in to the withdrawal effects associated with depleted dopamine and “relapse.” Moreover, this cycle of using and stopping creates new neural pathways. From the ritual of obtaining, using drugs and occasionally stopping, our brains form this pattern of vicious addiction and relapse. 


After consistent drug and alcohol use, people tend to stop taking care of themselves and focus their energy on obtaining and using drugs. Most people tend to stop doing activities that were once enjoyable and focus their energy on achieving their high. Regardless of whether physical activity was part of one’s routine, it tends to fall by the waist side. 


Exercise And Recovery


The value of exercise and recovery cannot be underestimated. Although some people who abuse drugs may never be able to naturally produce dopamine to a “normal” degree, there are still positive effects to be had. A study by the NCBI demonstrated that participants who engaged in a combination of therapy and moderate exercise in the first 12 weeks of their recovery are more likely to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol for the remainder of the outpatient treatment. Additionally, incorporating exercise into recovery can help build a strong daily routine to work through cravings and fill your daily schedule. 


Lastly, there is well documented evidence to suggest that consistent moderate exercise routines create lasting physical and mental effects. Some of these include:


  • Improved cardiovascular system
  • Better immune response and energy level
  • Increased optimism
  • Increased self esteem
  • Reduced stress, tension, depression, anxiety and cravings
  • Better sleep routine


If you or a loved one is looking for a great addiction treatment program in Colorado, look no further! Our outpatient treatment center is rooted in a holistic approach that incorporates fitness, nutrition and evidenced based therapies to help our clients succeed in early and long term sobriety. Contact our team today to learn more about how we can help you overcome addiction!