Make no mistake about it — addiction is a disease. When you abuse drugs or alcohol, it causes your brain to release an essential neurochemical called dopamine. Dopamine is involved in various neural processes, but when we talk about addiction, we are talking about the role dopamine plays in our feelings of pleasure and motivation. When an addict takes a hit of his substance of choice, the brain sends out a surge of dopamine. Over time, the addict starts compulsively using their substance in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of discomfort. Eventually, the addict’s body believes it needs the substance of choice in order to feel “normal,” and the addict completely loses control of their use. 

According to a surgeon general’s report on addiction: 

  • One in seven Americans will experience a substance abuse problem in their lifetime.
  • Twenty million Americans are currently struggling with a substance abuse disorder. 
  • Seventy-eight people die from an overdose every day. 
  • Only 10 percent of people with addictions ever receive help.

Seeking Support for Addiction 

While religious recovery methods like AA work for many people, most addicts can benefit from a holistic treatment plan where the 12 steps program is just one part of their recovery. Holistic treatment isn’t the same as alternative medicine, though it’s quite possible to integrate alternative medicine into addiction recovery. Rather, a holistic treatment plan addresses every part of the person: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. To address each of these parts, it may take several different treatment options — traditional and non-traditional alike.

For instance, many addicts have to deal with co-occurring mental health disorders that AA and NA do not address. It’s actually pretty common for people suffering from disorders like depression to turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication, and from that behavior, their addiction develops. A holistic recovery approach may involve psychiatric therapy and medication — typical treatments used in Western medicine — as a way to address the mental and physical problems beneath the addiction. 

Creating a Healthy Routine for Sobriety 

A healthy routine helps those struggling with addiction structure their lives in a way where they can avoid temptation. Routines fill the day with healthy activities, leaving little room to fall back into bad habits. Knowing what the day holds also helps addicts avoid feelings of anxiety, which can lead to self-medication through drug or alcohol abuse. 

Activities that can help create a routine and maintain sobriety include: 

  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Picking up a hobby
  • Taking an adult education class
  • Starting a side hustle
  • Praying 
  • Spending time with a pet 
  • Making one’s own healthy meals
  • Journaling 
  • Getting a full night’s sleep

Helping a Loved One with Substance Abuse 

If you fear your loved one is struggling with addiction, you likely feel a strong urge to help them. While your intentions may be pure, you need to avoid enabling their behavior, such as lying to protect them or ignoring their behavior. People also enable their loved ones by covering their expenses when they waste their funds on their substance of choice. Or, they may put their own needs aside to help when the addict is so self-destructive they can no longer help themselves. 

The best thing you can do for a loved one struggling with addiction is to help them get into treatment. It’s natural for the addict to resist — think of their addiction as a nasty monster living inside them that will do anything to survive. Going to treatment will subdue that monster, so it’s fighting back to avoid consequence. However, proper holistic treatment can mean the difference in your loved one being alive or dead. 

Addiction is a disease that changes the way a person’s brain operates. To treat addiction, it’s best to find ways to support the mind, body, and soul in a holistic manner. If you are afraid a loved one is suffering from addiction, take notice of your enabling behaviors and drop them in favor of recovery support.

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We know that exercise promotes health and well-being. A growing body of research also suggests that adding exercise to addiction treatment and recovery strengthens that treatment by reducing cravings and triggers.

Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Treatment

Since the goal of addiction treatment is to teach individuals to foster healthy, drug-free living while feeling better emotionally, mentally, and physically, exercise can help. Exercise releases neurotransmitters like endorphins that provide a natural high and endocannabinoids, which are concentrated in the central nervous system. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a homeostatic regulator that, like endorphins, provides a boost after you’ve worked up a sweat.

Addiction can wreck your body, but exercise can heal the damage. Exercise also improves your body image, increases confidence, raises energy levels, and promotes well-being. 

Creating a regimented daily routine that includes exercise helps recovering addicts stay committed to their goals. People who greet the morning with stretches, a walk, a jog, or yoga clear their minds and prepare for the day. A quick walk at lunch relieves stress and anxiety. An evening workout with friends provides a healthy environment in which to socialize. When fitness becomes a long-term strategy incorporated into your addiction recovery, you increase your chances of overcoming substance abuse and avoiding relapse.

Exercises to Try

Some people hate going to the gym, while others appreciate the structure it affords. Regardless of your decision, choose activities you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to mix it up now and then to avoid burning out on one particular exercise.

Here are some great options:

  • Walking, jogging, or running
  • Skateboarding or roller skating
  • Skiing or snowboarding
  • Martial arts

Activities in nature 

Nature provides a welcoming therapeutic environment because it facilitates your connection to the natural world. Whether you challenge yourself with a difficult hike or a bike ride along a smooth path, you’ll improve your self-esteem and feel a sense of accomplishment. Gardening also requires that you spend time in the sunshine — and if you plant an edible garden and add those fruits and vegetables to your meals, you’ll eat more healthfully, too.

Team activities

Participating in a casual group sport, such as basketball, baseball, softball, tennis, volleyball, or ping-pong, provides a substance-free environment in which to cultivate healthy relationships.


When you’re also recovering from physical effects of substance abuse, exercise can hurt. But if you swim, you’ll heal your joints and muscles with less strain. Water eases tension and the soreness that results from withdrawal. You’ll also calm your mind.


Another low-impact activity that helps to heal your mind and body is yoga. From the relaxing, restorative yoga to the more intense yoga that works to strengthen your body, each style includes meditation. This outlet trains you to calm your mind, think past temptations and cravings, and focus on and address triggers. 

Set Yourself Up for Long-Term Success

If you’re ready to establish an exercise routine to increase your physical fitness, start small with easily-achievable goals. Work with your treatment team to create a program that complements your recovery program or aftercare plan. 

  • Try a few different activities so you don’t get bored with one type.
  • Get your doctor’s OK to ensure that the activities won’t result in injury.
  • Build exercise time into your daily schedule. Add it to your calendar like you would any appointment or commitment so you’re not tempted to make excuses to skip it.
  • Encourage friends to join you or create an accountability group so you can stay motivated.

Think of exercise as a great investment of your time rather than a chore to tick off a list. Don’t get discouraged because your progress is slow — as long as you’re moving forward, you’re making progress, and that’s what counts. Gradually, your energy will increase, and you’ll feel better and better after each workout. You can set different goals to work toward, and as your body regulates and calibrates itself, it will transform into something healthier, stronger, and more energized — and that’s a powerful reinforcement for staying sober.

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Relationships are never void of issues. All couples have disagreements and obstacles to overcome. However, addiction is a big hurdle, and it can create a wealth of issues in a relationship. Trying to get the addict to accept treatment is the first step in helping the addict’s life and improving the relationship. There are ways to mend the relationship once the addict receives treatment. Unfortunately, despite all of these efforts, some spouses are better off just walking away from their addicted spouse.

Getting Treatment

Since many addicts often deny that they have an issue and are out of control, they often don’t seek treatment. They fail to realize the negative effects their addiction is having on their life and relationships. Even if addicts are aware of their issues, they don’t know how to ask for or get help. Addiction also changes the way the brain functions, so quitting becomes a difficult process, even if the addict is ready.

Learn more about the treatment process together. Fear of what happens at rehab may be holding your partner back from making the decision to go. Once you’ve researched together, schedule an evaluation for your partner with his or her family doctor. At the very least, locate a physician or treatment center, and share the information with your spouse. Tell them that seeking help takes a lot of courage, and that treatment helps people every day. Assure your spouse that you’ll be supportive throughout the process.

If they still refuse to seek treatment, you may consider staging an intervention. However, evidence is lacking as to whether interventions are effective or whether they backfire. Instead, focus on getting your spouse to see a doctor. 

Heal as a Couple

Spouses who suffer from an addiction can cause harm to their families. The addict may frequently break promises and become unreliable because their focus is on meeting the needs of their addiction. They might lie or steal in order to buy drugs. Some nights, they may not return home. They may lose their jobs, and family members may frequently fight. Some addicts even become verbally and/or physically abusive.

Trust is often broken when a spouse becomes an addict. Typically, communication becomes bad or nonexistent. The spouse who isn’t abusing drugs or alcohol may feel confused, scared, or angry at the change in the other spouse and the situation. Rebuilding trust and becoming better at communicating are important. When you’re in the process of healing your relationship, it’s imperative to maintain a healthy, positive living environment to promote sobriety.

Talking to an unbiased person outside of your relationship is a great way to work toward establishing better communication, regaining trust, and mending the relationship. Seek counseling from a mental health professional. You’ll likely need couples therapy and one-on-one therapy. There are other sources available to spouses of addicts, too, including books, hotlines, blogs, and support groups.

Deciding to Leave

The decision to come clean ultimately lies with the addict. No matter how much you love your spouse or try to help, they may not be able to maintain sobriety. You will need to determine when it’s time to walk away. Be very clear with yourself about your boundaries and breaking points, and once you reach them, stand by them.

Eventually, you may feel mentally and physically exhausted. You may consider leaving when you can no longer trust your spouse, even with therapy attempts. Suffering physical or emotional abuse are reasons to leave. Sometimes, as the spouse of an addict, you can no longer handle the constant cycle of rehab, recovery, and addiction. Having children can force you to question if staying is more harmful than leaving.

Your spouse’s addiction is not your fault. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or responsible if you decide to leave because you deserve better and you’ve had enough. In the end, it can be healthier for both you and your spouse. While helping your spouse seek treatment and working on mending your relationship is commendable, everyone has a breaking point, and you deserve to be healthy and happy.

Ultimately, if you and your spouse can work through the addiction together, and have adequate treatment and support resources, there is the possibility of mending your relationship and getting back to a place of love and understanding. It’s a process that takes time and patience, so don’t expect things to change overnight. By taking it one day at a time and being open and honest, there is hope for you both.

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