News about CrossFit training typically involves scenes of very healthy people doing very rigorous exercises at the crack of dawn. That’s part of the reason why they are very healthy people! However, this immensely popular fitness program is also being used to help those who are not so healthy – people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
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. Aside from the human misery involved in this disease, the costs to society in the form of lost productivity and public health expenses to treat these people is estimated in the billions of dollars each year.
Most medical experts feel this addiction can be overcome with a combination of behavioral modification which includes both mental and physical fitness training. Some CrossFit trainers are showing some success with an innovative program in Charlotte, North Carolina. More on this later.
What Causes Drug and Alcohol Addiction?
According to online medical website, WebMD “Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain's communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. There are at least two ways that drugs are able to do this: by imitating the brain's natural chemical messengers, and/or overstimulating the ‘reward circuit’ of the brain.”
The report on the site continues, “Nearly all drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brain's reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that control movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which normally responds to natural behaviors that are linked to survival (eating, sleeping), produces euphoric effects in response to the drugs. This reaction sets in motion a pattern that ‘teaches’ people to repeat the behavior of abusing drugs.”
As it turns out, this dopamine can also be stimulated by the effects of rigorous exercise such as CrossFit training. The positive effect is enhanced when this physical activity is accomplished on a regular basis. Getting someone “addicted” to exercise, in some cases, replaces the addiction to drugs and alcohol.
How Exercise Affects Addiction
In a report on CNN, psychology professor Mark Smith outlined his research on the effects of exercise on addition 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.”
"I was amazed at how consistent the effects of exercise were," Smith said.
The CNN report concludes that exercise provides a "high" that could be important for addicts trying to combat cravings. In addition to decreasing anxiety and stress, physical activity helps increase levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, a chemical that's associated with feelings of pleasure, is often diminished over time by substance abuse.
The Charlotte Rescue Mission Uses CrossFit to Battle Substance Abuse
A report broadcast on the Fox network affiliate, Fox 46 in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 14, 2015, presented a real-world case study on how CrossFit can help substance abusers overcome their addictions.
The Rescue Mission has been helping desperate people for more than 70 years. One of its programs is a 90-day treatment program for men addicted to drugs and alcohol. They live in-house at the Mission for the length of the program and while psychologists help them work on their mental habits, CrossFit instructor Michelle Crawford helps them build up their strength through rigorous exercises and weight training.
"I think it give them some confidence in their physical abilities, some of which they've neglected over the years," Charlotte Rescue Mission's John Snider said.
Click here to get a look at the CrossFit program that is changing the lives of these men.
CrossFit physical training, in conjunction with behavioral therapy, is changing the lives of people society has given up on. Are you aware of other CrossFit programs which are being used for helping substance abusers overcome their disease? If so, Contact us and tell us about the program. We will share with everyone else.