Can Healthy Exercise Help Curb Cravings?

Making the decision to stop using is a great step, but what can you do to stop WANTING to use?

Does sobriety improve quality of lifeWhen you make the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol, you acknowledge your own independence and set a practical, possible goal for the future. Your sobriety doesn't depend on anything except your own choices, and no matter how often you used, even physical dependencies usually subside within a week or two. Afterwards, you're free to experience your genuine emotions and find productive solutions for your problems. Some people find that exercise helps them stabilize or cope with these feelings; others substitute substances for the serotonin rush of regular workouts. However, if you're looking for a magical cravings cure, you won't find it in any specific activity.

"Cravings" are a common concern for former substance users. However, the urge to use again is purely psychological, and the solution is too. A healthy lifestyle will certainly allow you to make steadier progress toward your goals, but ultimately, you must understand the nature of your desires and learn how to apply a different perspective. Instead of assuming that cravings are inevitable, incorporate the following techniques into your everyday routine.

Plan Ahead

If substance use was your go-to activity for a long time, you've conditioned yourself to associate certain settings and emotions with the instant gratification it provided. These "automatic thoughts" have no physical power over you, but they can still seem to stir up feelings of desire, and you may need to work harder to focus on the long-term consequences. This is true of any excessive habit, though. For example, when someone on a diet passes a bakery, the scent and sight may trigger automatic thoughts and even binge rationalizations. Walk a different way, pass by after eating a healthy lunch—in other words — prepare in advance.

It's really that simple. If you expect to encounter substances somewhere, such as a bar or party, it doesn't mean you should live your life in fear of them and give them power they really don't have. However, memories and impulses can seem stronger when you're caught off-guard. Plan ahead instead. If you're still struggling with a strong desire to use, don't put yourself in situations that will be problematic. Once you've acknowledged your cravings, noticed patterns and dealt with your behaviors, move onto the next step.

Identify Alternatives

Physical activity disrupts some of the obsessive thought processes that remind you how it felt to use. These thoughts aren't necessarily uncontrollable, and they don't mean you'll use again. However, they're the natural result of empty time that was once filled with the distraction of drugs or alcohol. They're also natural reactions to the sensory stimuli that our brain associates with substance use. Notice the times, places, and feelings that make these feelings stronger, and decide to identify alternative ways to deal with them.

Because exercise stimulates release of endorphins, it's a wise way to respond to thoughts of using again or "cravings". If necessary, ask some friends and family members to help you out. Play in the yard with your kids or take a jog with your friends, and enjoy the fun that follows. These memories will become more common than the artificial highs that offered no positive long-term effects. You'll find, over time, your thoughts of using will lessen as you make new associations and strengthen to new and healthier choices and behaviors.


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