I’m sure you’ve all seen and heard about Charlie Sheen, his substance abuse problems and his latest media rants (check out my Top 10: Unhealthiest Celebrities list for more on Charlie and other out of shape celebs).
Sitting at home and watching those interviews was painful, and honestly I felt embarrassed for him. His vices have clearly sunk their teeth into his soul and he’s out of control. I know the conventional way of treating substance abuse is traditional rehab and therapy, but I think something else can play a huge role in helping people treat an addiction problem, and is being overlooked ……
It got me thinking about my friend who we’ll refer to as Tom. He had a terrible childhood and by age 12 was smoking pot, dropping acid, doing coke, and all sorts of illicit things. He lived and saw more life by age 15 than I have at 37, and that’s not a good thing. It’s a really sad story, but Tom turned it all around and is now 15 years clean! And guess what got him off the drugs?
Working out, yep – trading illegal, harmful drugs for pumping iron in the gym, coupled with rehab, helped straighten him out. Tom eats healthy and is focused on his health. He looks amazing and it’s an unmistakable truth that fitness has changed his life for good. He’s told me “I couldn’t have done it without the gym”.
Then I started thinking about another Hollywood icon, Robert Downey Jr. We all know about his colorful past with drug use, rehabs and run ins with the law. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s now really fit and sober. I mean come on, the guy’s ‘Ironman’ physique was a huge change in character from a guy who wanders into the wrong house and ends up sleeping in someone else’s bed (His kettlebell workout was even featured in Mens Fitness). I don’t know if Robert’s passion for exercise came before or after cleaning up, but I have to believe it helps keep him on track. I respect and admire his achievement.
I’m not pretending to be a therapist in any capacity, but I am speculating about some things that I do believe aren’t out of the realm of possibility. I don’t think it’s any big secret that some people use drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism. Often times many users have self-esteem, self worth, confidence, and some other emotional issues that can lead them to try and cover up their issues. Some people turn to drugs, others turn to food (like a drug), others hoard and some may form other addictions as a coping and soothing mechanism. And sometimes people just can’t handle pressure of being on top.
So how can exercise help people with these types of issues?
First and foremost exercise builds self-esteem and can easily make a person more confident. So many people only look at the physical changes it brings about, but truthfully I believe it’s the positive emotional and mental improvements that really change a person’s life. Working out consistently has a way of changing how you look at the world, how you look at yourself, and consequently, how the world views you.
Our guest poster Pieter Vodden just wrote a post about how training changed his life. And I know he’s not alone in his feeling of empowerment, satisfaction, and general happiness that it’s brought him. In fact, I’m living proof of exactly what I speak about. I always say I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not discovered my passion for fitness.
It doesn’t just stop there though, as exercise can produce drug like effects. It releases the chemical dopamine and endorphins in the brain just as addictive drugs do – which can act like anti depressants, block or reduce pain, and produce a happy, almost euphoric state. Interestingly, it’s been reported in some studies that drug users and obese individuals have lower than normal amounts of the receptors for these chemicals in their brain. This is one reason why it’s speculated that many addicts also suffer from depression and lack feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
As one researcher stated “you can almost exercise your way to happiness”, meaning that some people may get the same results by using exercise that they’d receive from medicines designed to treat depression. Exercise also releases growth hormone, testosterone, and also regulates an entire cascade of other body processes that fight pain, keep you youthful, and increase your quality of life and health.
I’m not suggesting that people with serious drug or emotional issues can be cured or healed with just the inclusion of exercise. But since we know that it improves health, mood, and touches just about every aspect of a persons’ life, both physically and mentally in a positive way, I can’t believe it wouldn’t help. Besides the potential chemical releases, it can also give people a sense of accomplishment and something to focus on – a goal. I think it’s a great idea for all rehab centers to install fitness centers and make daily exercise part of the therapy used in treating addiction.
But what do you think? Do you think exercise should be used in treating addiction? Or do you have a personal story you’d like to share?