How an Exercise Plan Can Mitigate Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
While it might sound counterintuitive since opiates are used to relieve pain, exercise, and increased fitness can help someone overcome their opiate withdrawal symptoms.
Exercise (during non-acute opiate withdrawal) can help one overcome withdrawal symptoms faster by increasing the amount of feel-good hormone, dopamine, and brain.
Exercise and Opiate Withdrawal: The Healing Benefits of Fitness
Most drug and alcohol inpatient rehab programs promote physical activity as part of more extensive, robust, opiate addiction treatment.
Exercising safely during opiate withdrawal may, in some cases, be more effective than traditional treatment methods.
While in-house therapy, opioid tapering during detox, and support groups can certainly help those struggling with opioid withdrawal, science supports exercise as an excellent counter-withdrawal tool.
It’s still advisable to seek professional addiction treatment. Because while do-it-yourself remedies exist, many of which utilize exercise as a foundation—a traditional treatment with supervised detox is a much safer option.
Exercise and Dopamine
Being physically active boosts the presence of dopamine in the brain. The more we exercise, the more dopamine is released. The more active we are, the higher our fitness level becomes, leading to higher exercise degrees and further dopamine release.
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 levels.
The U.S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health states that exercise offers substantial benefits, including:
- reducing anxiety symptoms
- lowering the risk of depression
- decreasing the urge to consume alcohol
- improving coping habits
Over time, dopamine production due to exercise can help addicted individuals find other hobbies to manage long-term recovery.
Some addiction recovery centers have even pushed for the implementation of opiate-recovery-centered gymnasiums because easy exercise equipment access can promote the physical activity needed to combat acute and post-acute opioid withdrawal symptoms.
The Best Exercises for Opioid Withdrawal
In many ways, the best fitness program is whatever is appealing to the individual. Exercise for opiate withdrawal doesn’t have to be complicated!
All types of exercise, studies show, can help alleviate opiate withdrawal symptoms. Generally, cardiovascular exercise tends to be particularly useful. Different cardio exercises include:
- and many more!
Another exercise option includes anaerobic exercise, such as weightlifting or strength training, which is also significant in alleviating potential discomfort from opioid withdrawal.
The act of exercising regularly and committing to physical activity can help individuals focus on their recovery and keep their mind off drug use.
Exercise during opiate withdrawal is surprisingly similar to other 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.
If you haven’t been exercising, it is best to start slowly to avoid injury. There’s no need to join a physical fitness program right away. Exercise during opiate withdrawal begins as soon as you get your body moving.
Hiking and walking allow you to enjoy the outdoors, and a brief 15-minute walk alone can stave off cravings. A brisk stroll, or a hike, can even enhance brain function and support new brain cell growth, too.
Today’s leading inpatient rehab programs often feature some kind of nature, or recreational treatments are integrated into their programs when possible. Whether walking a trail or hiking a hill, you can still engage in adventure therapy even 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. At Elevate, we feel CrossFit, in particular, is a leading post-addiction tool recovering individuals need.
CrossFit relies on timed exercise, self-competition, and some 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 nature 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 by teaching individuals to sit with themselves without judgment.
Consistent yoga practice 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 physical and psychological health.
Yoga can encourage new neuron growth, forming new connections between the brain’s pre-existing neurons. Yoga also ties together a few neurobiological effects, including:
- 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.
Meditation is another treatment option for many recovering individuals. Although meditation is not very physical, it is a great mental exercise. Increasing your mental stamina can help you up your physical stamina.
Meditation is an excellent accompaniment to an exercise program during withdrawal, but it can also be engaged alone. Because meditation requires little physical input, it can be done virtually anywhere! In the comfort of your own home, in the car, at work, even while you’re walking!
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.
Meditation decreases insomnia, according to the 2015 Harvard Health Letter. It can additionally reduce the chance of relapse by teaching individuals to stay in the present moment and not crave the past.
Many experts also suggest that meditation assists with the brain’s production of serotonin. Serotonin, itself is a feel-good neurotransmitter that is activated during opiate abuse. While repeat meditation sessions are needed to increase serotonin, the practice can help replenish serotonin levels reduced by addiction.
How Long Does Opioid Withdrawal Last?
Acute opiate withdrawal is a short-term process that typically lasts a week or two, depending on the severity of the opioid abuse.
During this time, the client is often medicated, and only light exercise such as a brisk walk is considered safe. However, as an addicted person enters the third week or so of their opioid detox, it becomes possible to push a bit harder for more significant benefits.
Is Opiate Abuse Detox Necessary?
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.
Medically Supervised Detox
While medical addiction treatment may be necessary during the detox and withdrawal phase, long-term replacements such as Methadone or Suboxone are not recommended for recovering addicts following said phase.
Medications that may be used to help alleviate opioid withdrawal include:
Benzodiazepines: These drugs are designed to calm someone down and reduce anxiety, typical withdrawal symptoms. Often, prescribing doctors are cautious about using benzodiazepines, as they can also 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 are often prescribed.
However, at Elevate, we believe these medications are unnecessary and that the exercise is a much more effective way to get these brain chemicals being produced again.
Those suffering withdrawal from opiate addiction often need professional 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 third-party healthcare providers.
The Importance of Monitoring
Of course, any exercise method explicitly used 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 common opioid withdrawal symptoms—can then be examined to help the recovering individual pinpoint current medical issues.
The Opiate Addiction Cycle
Opiates and opioids are addictive drugs that are designed to reduce pain. If a person using opiates ceases use after heavy use, they’ll encounter several withdrawal symptoms.
In 2014 alone, roughly 435,000 people used heroin. In the same year, approximately 4.3 million people used narcotic pain relievers non-medically. This means they haven’t prescribed the narcotics.
Opioids may include:
- hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- meperidine (Demerol)
- 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. Also referred to as “tolerance.”
When addicted individuals attend inpatient rehab programs or 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.
Opioid 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 opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- muscle aches
- runny nose
Late opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- abdominal cramping
Early symptoms usually occur within six to 12 hours after the user has stopped taking opiates. Late symptoms appear 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, severe anxiety, and—understandably—intense drug cravings. Unfortunately, withdrawal symptoms can last weeks if detox isn’t available.
The Scope Of the Opioid Epidemic
Addiction can impact every part of a person’s life. Opiate addiction is incredibly dangerous. Every day, over 128 people in America die from an opiate overdose.
The use, misuse, and addiction to opioids, including heroin, prescription pain relievers, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl—is considered a national crisis. Surprisingly, nearly 29 percent of patients prescribed opiates for chronic pain contribute to the opiate epidemic.
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
Exercise in Recovery Works
Physical exercise during drug addiction recovery is invaluable in 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 treatment 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.
Scott Friend, MSW, M.S.
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This page does not provide medical advice
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