Get and Stay Fit After Completing Drug Treatment

4 min read · 5 sections

Forming New Habits After Treatment

When someone is addicted to alcohol or drugs, they often sacrifice important occupational, interpersonal, and recreational activities in favor of substance abuse. This is because addiction involves patterns of compulsive substance use—individuals begin to use drugs or alcohol regardless of the negative consequences. People will often continue to drink and use drugs despite knowing that such activity can be injurious to their mental and physical health.1,2

By making the decision to enter a professional addiction treatment program, you have given yourself an opportunity to break the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and begin to repair the damage through the recovery process. Many treatment centers will address more than the impact of substances in your life as they take a holistic and comprehensive approach to improve your overall well-being.1

Of course, rehabs will provide individual therapy, group counseling, and medication management, if applicable; they will also encourage participation in support groups, but many rehabilitation centers now focus on adding exercise and physical activity into the treatment plan. The belief is that by improving someone’s physical health, you improve their ability to establish and maintain recovery.1

Every treatment facility is different; some provide basic exercise equipment while others may offer a large health center complete with fitness professionals to guide your activity and create a personalized workout plan just for you. Combining exercise with traditional therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help to decrease stress and negative emotions.1 It can be easy to commit yourself to regular physical activity during rehab due to the highly structured environment, but now that rehab has ended and you want to continue exercising regularly, you will have to make a plan to help stay on track and meet your goals.

When you leave rehab, the return of old habits can present challenges to your recovery and to your overall wellbeing. To stay on track, it can help to impose some amount of self-discipline in the form of regular meeting attendance or participation with other forms of aftercare, relapse prevention, and general recovery support. A structured exercise routine can be a part of this. Maintaining the healthy practices you began in rehab is essential to your ability to lead a life based on fulfillment and happiness, and one of the best habits to maintain is regular exercise.

How to Create a Workout Routine

Creating a workout routine seems like it should be simple. Just figure out what you want to do, and go for it.

Unfortunately, the process can become overwhelming quickly as you are flooded with countless exercise options and opinions from friends and experts.

The pressure of making the “right” choices can make you give up on your exercise plan before it even starts. Keep in mind that no one expects you to have all the answers when it comes to your new exercise regimen, so it’s vital to keep your expectations of yourself fair.

A great starting point in your exercise plan is consulting with a professional to devise your workout. Consider meeting with your medical doctor to see if they have any concerns regarding your physical health and ability to exercise. From there, if you have the means and the green light from your doctor, schedule an appointment with a personal trainer to go over workouts appropriate for you.

Exercise does not have to be a solitary activity. By forming or joining a group of people dedicated to physical health, you can find new ways to stay accountable as you provide motivation for others.

Remember, you may not find the perfect exercise plan immediately. Continue to experiment with different options at different intensities at different times of the day until you find a fit that works for you.

Exercise Options

Just because one exercise plan works for someone you know doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for you, and that’s okay. You are an individual with unique needs, demands, and preferences.

Keep experimenting with activities and types of activities until you find something that you truly enjoy. The good news is you don’t have to settle on only one type of exercise. Some of the best workouts will include aspects of all exercise types to form a well-rounded program.

Benefits of Exercise

The benefits of exercise for improving someone’s physical and mental health are so well-researched that there is little doubt regarding the pros. But can exercise actually help people with addiction get clean and stay clean for longer periods of time?

The good news is that these benefits were not limited to only one type of exercise. The study confirmed that aerobic exercises, such as running and brisk walking, and mind-body exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, both elicited significant improvements. Additionally, the benefits were not impacted by the intensity of exercise.5


Exercise’s power to battle drug and alcohol abuse is life-changing, but what creates these accomplishments? It may have to do with exercise’s effects on the brain.

Although every substance affects the brain differently, generally speaking, substance abuse causes reinforcing changes in the brain due to the effects on neurotransmitters. Over time, chronic drug or alcohol abuse can cause lasting changes in brain function and structure. Studies now demonstrate that exercise can target these same reinforcing pathways in the brain.6

For example, using certain drugs, such as stimulants, alcohol, and opioids, is associated with increased activity of dopamine, a neurotransmitter system involved with pleasurable feelings and a sense of reward. It turns out that dopamine activity also increases following a period of acute exercise, so the physical activity replicates–on a smaller scale–the immediate effects of substance use.6 Moreover, long-term physical activity can actually create positive lasting changes in the dopaminergic system.6

In short, there is no down side to supplementing your recovery with an exercise routine. Physical activity can serve as a non-substance reinforcer that not only heals your body, but also improves mood and reduces stress.6

Fostering Balance

If you are learning this information for the first time, you might have the inclination to give up all treatment to focus on exercise. Be careful, though. Exercise has many advantages, but you must practice moderation as you bring physical activity into your life. Too much of a positive can quickly become a negative.

Addictions are marked by losing balance in life, and some people trade an addiction to drugs for an addiction to exercise. Any addiction can be damaging and distressing.

Exercise addictions may also trigger other addictions or unhealthy behaviors, like eating disorders.7

Exercise is important but so is rest, which is why moderation is key. Without taking time to heal and recover between periods of exercise, the benefits of physical activity dwindle, and you are more likely to become burned out and frustrated with exercise.

Life in recovery will be more enjoyable and rewarding with balance. Exercise cannot be your entire treatment program, but it can be a critical component of lifelong recovery.

The best recovery plans cover every part of your life including your physical, mental, social, and spiritual health. If you find too much of your energy being committed to one aspect of your health, take a moment to reflect on your treatment and adjust your direction as needed.

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