How an Exercise Plan Can Mitigate Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

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Exercise And Opiate Withdrawal

Article Contents

Learn how moving your body helps your take the edge off

Addiction can impact every part of a person’s life. Opiate addiction is particularly dangerous. Every day, over 115 people in America die from an opiate overdose. The use, misuse, and addiction to opioids—which includes heroin, prescription pain relievers and synthetic opioids like fentanyl—is considered to be a national crisis.

Today’s inpatient rehab programs work diligently to combat this epidemic. Similarly, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that America’s overall economic burden of opioid misuse, by itself, costs the nation about $78.5 billion per year. This number includes several costs, including:

  • Healthcare costs
  • Lost productivity
  • Addiction treatment
  • Criminal justice involvement

Surprisingly, nearly 29 percent of patients prescribed opiates for chronic pain contribute to the opiate epidemic. Fitness is related to opiate addiction in another way, however: Exercise for opiate withdrawal has become a go-to recovery option for suffering patients.

Inpatient rehab programs are promoting physical activity as part of larger, robust, opiate addiction recovery treatments. Exercise during opiate withdrawal, alone, counteracts acute withdrawal symptoms. Let’s take a closer look at opiate addiction, covering exercise’s astounding impacts on recovering patients.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms: Discomfort and Sickness

Before discussing the benefits of exercise during opiate withdrawal, it’s important to understand how withdrawal, itself, impacts the human body.

Opiates—or opioids—are drugs which reduce pain. If a person using opiates ceases use after heavy use, they’ll encounter a number of withdrawal symptoms. In 2014 alone, roughly 435,000 people used heroin. In the same year, approximately 4.3 million people used narcotic pain relievers nonmedically. This means they weren’t prescribed the narcotics. These opiates include:

  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Methadone
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin)

These substances cause physical dependence, forcing the user to rely on the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. In time, more of the substance is needed to achieve the same level of pain relief—referred to as tolerance.

When addicted individuals attend inpatient rehab programs—or, when they quit using on their own—their bodies need time to recover. During this period, withdrawal symptoms appear. Opiate withdrawal can occur even if the user “cuts back” on the substance.

Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate withdrawal symptoms vary in severity. For this reason, many inpatient rehab programs treat patients on a case-to-case basis. Withdrawal symptoms,as reported by MedlinePlus exist as either “early” symptoms” or “late” symptoms.

Early symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose

Late symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping

Early symptoms usually occur within six to 12 hours after the user has stopped taking opiates. Late symptoms occur after 30 hours of non-use. Typically, withdrawal symptoms peak after 72 hours.

Opiate users who’ve used heavily may experience extreme withdrawal symptoms which manifest as depression, extreme anxiety and—understandably—intense drug cravings. Unfortunately, withdrawal symptoms can last weeks if detox isn’t available.

Opiate Abuse Detox

In most cases, opiate abuse detox is needed. Detox includes several treatment options to aid the physical and mental health of an addicted individual. Often, a combination of therapy and medication is used.

Medicinal Detox

While medical treatment for an addiction may be necessary during the detox and withdrawal phase, long-term replacements such as Methadone or Antabuse are not recommended for recovering addicts following said phase. On the medicinal side of things, medications include:

Benzodiazepines: These drugs reduce irritability and anxiety—which are common withdrawal symptoms. Often, prescribing doctors are cautious about using benzodiazepines as they can be addictive.

Clonidine: This drug reduces the cramps, sweating, anxiety and muscle aches of opiate withdrawal. In extreme withdrawal, Clonidine can stop seizures and sweating.

Antidepressants: Because a recovering individual can’t produce natural levels of happiness-inducing brain chemicals, antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft may be needed.

Therapeutic Detox

Those suffering withdrawal from opiates often need psychological support during detox. Therapeutic options include:

Inpatient Counseling: In-house psychological support is offered across all inpatient rehab programs. This counseling helps recovering individuals cope with the psychological stress of opiate-related anxiety and depression.

Outpatient Counseling: External psychological support is also available. These therapy sessions can either be provided by inpatient rehab programs offering long-term support or by third-party mental health providers.

Exercise and Opiate Withdrawal: The Healing Benefits of Fitness

While in-house therapy, medication and support groups can certainly help those struggling with withdrawal, science supports exercise as an amazing counter-withdrawal tool. Exercise during opiate withdrawal may, in some cases, be more effective than traditional treatment methods.

Make no mistake: It’s still advisable to seek professional help. Do-it-yourself remedies exist—and many of them, indeed, utilize exercise as a foundation—but exercise used in conjunction with traditional treatment is much safer.


Exercise And Dopamine

Physical activity boosts the presence of dopamine in the brain. The more we exercise, the more dopamine is released. The more we exercise, the higher our fitness level becomes—leading to higher degrees of exercise, and more dopamine.

This “fitness” cycle is an incredibly beneficial one, psychologically. Studies show that repeat physical activity can help return an addicted person’s dopamine levels to pre-abuse heights. The U.S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health asserts that exercise offers substantial benefits which counter early and late withdrawal symptoms alike.

  • Exercise has a well-established history of reducing anxiety symptoms.
  • Prolonged exercise lowers the risk of major depression relapses.
  • Exercise decreases urges to consume alcohol.
  • Improving one’s fitness helps with coping habits.

Over time, exercise’s production of dopamine can help addicted individuals find other non-substance-related hobbies to manage long-term recovery. Some addiction recovery centers have even pushed for the implementation of opiate-recovery-centric gymnasiums. Easy exercise equipment access, they suspect, may promote the physical activity needed to combat acute and post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

The Importance Of Monitoring

Of course, any exercise method used specifically to combat opiate withdrawal should be monitored. Leading addiction recovery experts suggest using pedometers and heart rate monitors to gauge one’s symptoms. Muscle fatigue and anxiety—two major withdrawal symptoms—can then be examined to help the recovering individual pinpoint current medical issues.

Finding the Right Fitness Program

We know exercise can alleviate opiate withdrawal symptoms. So, how do we go about discovering the best fitness program? In many ways, the best fitness program is useful to the individual. All types of exercise, studies show, can alleviate opiate withdrawal symptoms.

This said, cardiovascular exercise tends to be particularly effective. Running, swimming, climbing and similar activities tend to offer higher dopamine growth rewards. Anaerobic exercise, like weightlifting, is also effective.

The act of practicing an exercise routine, and committing to a physical activity, can keep the mind off drug use, too. Exercise during opiate withdrawal is surprisingly similar to traditional treatment methods. It isn’t surprising drug rehab centers across America are incorporating exercise as treatment plan mainstays.

The physical and mental health benefits of exercise can’t be understated. Below, we’ll cover some of the best options for those pursuing exercise for opiate withdrawal.

Hiking And Walking

Hiking and walking are great options for those who aren’t in great physical shape. They’re also ideal for patients who’ve experienced muscle weakness due to prolonged opiate use. Sometimes, exercise for opiate withdrawal can be easy!

If you want to start slow, you don’t need to join a physical fitness program. Exercise during opiate withdrawal begins as soon as you get your body moving. Enjoy The Great Outdoors, as a 15-minute walk alone can stave off cravings. A brisk stroll, or a hike, can even enhance brain function. It supports new brain cell growth, too.

This type of adventure therapy may even be part of your program. Today’s leading inpatient rehab programs often feature weekend getaways to popular hiking trails, parks or track fields. Don’t worry: These outings are custom-tailored to everyone. You can still engage adventure therapy if you’re not in great shape.


Strength training has a slew of recovery benefits. While cardio exercises get a lot of attention, weightlifting directly assists with insomnia. We feel CrossFit, in particular, is a leading post-addiction tool recovering individuals need.

CrossFit relies on timed exercise, self- competition and even cardio to work. In many ways, CrossFit covers most of the “withdrawal symptom bases.” Bodyweight exercises like chin-ups and push-ups can even help you reboot your sleep cycle over time.

CrossFit is also incredibly social. While adventure therapy helps recovering addicts experience the dopamine rush of new life, CrossFit builds a firm foundation to combat acute withdrawal symptoms alongside others. Exercise for opiate withdrawal doesn’t need to be explored alone—and CrossFit’s accountability factor makes it an excellent option.


Engaging yoga as part of a physical fitness program can further reduce opiate withdrawal effects. Many drug treatment centers even unroll yoga mats as part of their programs. Limbering up, reportedly, has more than a few mental and physical benefits. The National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health has covered yoga extensively, discussing its positive impacts on brain mechanism modulation.

Our brains aren’t static. They don’t contain fixed hardwiring. Because our neural pathways can change with mental exercise, yoga has become a staple of both physical and mental health. Yoga can encourage the growth of new neurons, also forming new connections between the brain’s pre-existing neurons.

Yoga also ties together a few neurobiological effects of:

  • Brainwaves
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Mental exercise

In short: yoga can help “fill the gaps” left by chronic substance abuse. Those suffering from addiction have a lot to gain from a little yoga.


Proposing similar benefits as yoga, meditation is another physical fitness program option for many recovering individuals. Meditation can accompany exercise during withdrawal, but it can also be engaged alone. Because meditation requires little physical input, it can even be done in the comfort of your own home!

If you’re trying to exercise for opiate withdrawal, consider meditating before or after your fitness session. According to the  National Institute on Drug Abuse, meditation can increase one’s ability to cope with the psychological impacts of withdrawal. It can additionally reduce the chance of relapse.

Meditation decreases insomnia, as per the Harvard Health Letter, 2015. Many suggest that meditation also assists with the brain’s production of serotonin. Serotonin, itself, is a feel-good neurotransmitter which is activated during opiate abuse. While repeat meditation sessions are needed to increase serotonin, the practice can help replenish serotonin levels which were reduced by addiction.

Obstacle Courses

Also considered to be part of adventure therapy, obstacle courses are great for instilling a sense of purpose while getting fit. Some treatment centers give recovering addicts accessibility to multiple obstacle courses. In doing so, they give recovering individuals plenty of exploration—and plenty of achievement.

Popular types of obstacle courses include:

  • Rope courses
  • Rock climbing walls
  • Mud courses
  • Swimming courses

While completing physical challenges promotes healthy dopamine release, the problem-solving aspects obstacle courses provide aid the brain’s working memory. Additionally, the memories created during obstacle course exercises can help recovering addicts remember they’re capable of overcoming figurative, and literal, hurdles.

Obstacle Courses

Physical exercises during drug addiction recovery are invaluable. By equipping individuals with life experiences, fitness opportunities and a well-rounded community, fitness programs aid both current and future recovery. Your body and mind deserve attention, and your recovery deserves a little excitement.

If you or a loved one suffer from opiate dependency, addiction or withdrawal symptoms, don’t give up hope. Either alone or alongside others, exercise is an incredibly viable option. Strengthen your body, mind, and sense of self. The road to recovery may be long, but it has many routes of access. Find your inner adventure, and reclaim your inner self. Contact Elevate Addiction Services, and ask more about how fitness can benefit your recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice.
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