Replacing Addiction with a Healthy Obsession, By Jacque Wilson, CNN

In his memoir, “The Long Run,” Mishka Shubaly chronicles his journey from “irreverent young drunk” to ultra-runner. The author sobered up by running five miles at a time, then 10, then 50.  It was Shubaly’s editor who first suggested he write about his road to recovery.  “I told him point-blank, ‘No one wants to hear me cry about how I f***ed up my own life,’ ” Shubaly said. “And I was totally wrong.” When “The Long Run” was published on Amazon’s Kindle Singles list in 2011, it hit No. 1, bumping Stephen King out of the top spot.

The book’s popularity may have been a surprise to Shubaly, but experts know he’s not alone in using exercise to overcome addiction. Groups have been popping up around the country to help people stay sober by staying active.

“It’s a great way to introduce people into something that then later becomes … sort of their coping mechanism, as opposed to picking up a drink or a drug,” said Scott Strode, one of this year’s top 10 CNN Heroes. Strode’s nonprofit, Phoenix Multisport, provides free athletic activities and a sober support community to thousands of people in Colorado.

In 2008, the National Institute on Drug Abuse pledged $4 million to research the effect of physical activity on drug use. Preclinical research has provided evidence that exercise can help treat — and even possibly prevent — addiction, and now human trials are taking place.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, abuse of illicit drugs and alcohol contributes to the death of more than 100,000 Americans every year. While intervention and treatment programs have improved, relapse rates range from 60% to 90% in the first year of sobriety, the institute said.

“Habits play an important role in our health,” the institute’s director, Dr. Nora Volkow, said in a National Institute of Health newsletter. “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.”

Psychology professor Mark Smith researches the effects of exercise on addiction in laboratory rats. One of his first preclinical studies on the subject showed lab rats that had access to an exercise wheel in their cage were much less likely to self-administer cocaine than their sedentary counterparts.

He and his colleagues have also completed several follow-up studies, duplicating the results with male and female rats; with low, medium and high doses; with heroin; and with different models of substance binges and relapses.

“I was amazed at how consistent the effects of exercise were,” Smith said.

Other researchers have published animal studies with similar results. For example, a 2009 study in Pathophysiology Journal showed treadmill exercise reduced morphine use in male rats. And in 2011, a study in the journal Current Neuropharmacologydemonstrated animals’ preference for saline over amphetamines when they exercised.

“These results lead us to conclude that a previous practice of regular physical activity may help in preventing amphetamine addiction,” the study’s authors wrote.  While evidence mounts that exercise may help prevent and treat addiction, scientists are trying to figure out why.  To get clean, addicts often give up their past social lives, including any friends who use. During their recovery, they have a lot of free time and not a lot of support.

To get clean, addicts often give up their past social lives, including any friends who use. During their recovery, they have a lot of free time and not a lot of support.

By Jacque Wilson, CNN

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