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Addiction, exercise, recovery: A little less sweating, just as much addiction help!

October 16th, 2009

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contributing author: Katie McGrath

We’ve talked quite a bit about the benefits of active habits, especially early in recovery when addicts are looking for things to do instead of drugs and alcohol. If you want to look at another blogger who supports the idea that replacing addictive habits is essential to recovery, you should check out Spiritual River, written by Patrick Meninga. He has numerous blogs the specifically talk about what he calls the “creative theory of addiction.”

As we continue exploring what I call “positive addictions“, the important point to remember is to start small and to find things you enjoy doing. Any hobby that gives you enjoyment and that can take up a certain amount of time each day can serve as a “positive addiction”. In addition to the helpful exercise-recovery activities that we described in our earlier posts (like yoga and running), there are a number of less physically demanding ones that can be at least as helpful.

Other addiction help options!

Research has shown that activities like gardening, painting, listening and playing music, and writing (journaling, poetry writing, literary writing) have all served as positive addictions. We’ll look at each one of these briefly:

- Gardening can increase self esteem by enabling you to care and nurture for a living thing. It can reinforce and evoke positive emotions through growing, harvesting, and experiencing the growth of plants (1). Gardening can allow for an escape into an activity that promotes life while combining creativity and hard work (if you think gardening is easy, you’ve obviously never tried it!).

- Music therapy has also been shown to have a number of positive effects on drug users. We’ve all felt the power of music we love, whether sober, or under the influence. Analyzing lyrics and sharing songs enables people to express their feelings and thoughts in a positive way. In one particular study, relaxing music shortened the time it took subjects to fall asleep and improved mood on the following day (2).


- Similarly, poetry and writing are pathways to feelings. Poetry therapy enables people to overcome obstacles and painful memories by writing and using words to express their feelings (3). The benefits of putting one’s thoughts on paper (by journaling for example) are also great because they allow one to reflect on internal processes that may be very important but just outside of one’s awareness.

- Lastly, painting is another leisurely activity that has been shown to improve depression and anxiety by inspiring creativity and individuality (4). People can clear an open space in their mind by focusing on their art. While few of us will ever reach the levels of artistic geniuses like Picasso, Van Gough, and Rodin, the physical and emotional benefits of creating the art itself are worth at least as much as the critical acclaim.

Obviously, there are a number of ways to fill the void left by drugs when trying to quit. Addiction help doesn’t come only in the form of exercise. The important thing is to find something that gives you pleasure, takes your focus away from the worries of early recovery, and perhaps, that you can get involved in along with other people to allow for the formation of new, drug-free, relationships.

Best of luck!


(1) Kavanagh, Hean. (1998). Outdoor space and adaptive gardening: Design, techniques, and tools. Food Products Press: Binghamton, NY.

(2) Abdollahnejad, Mohammad Reza. (2006). Music Therapy in the Tehran Therapeutic Community. Therapeutic Communities, Vol 27(1), pp. 147-158.

(3) Keith Van Vilet. (1977). Creativity and Self Image: An Odyssey in Poetry and Photography. Psychotherapy. Vol. 4 pp. 9-93.

(4) Gil Bar-Sela , Lily Atid, Sara Danos, Naomi Gabay, Ron Epelbaum. (2007) Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Division of Oncology, Rambam-Health Care Campus, Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

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