Many people trying to curb their alcohol use have found that starting a fitness routine can help curtail alcohol use. For “gray area” drinkers (those who want to drink less, but who do not consider themselves alcoholics) exercise can be very helpful in reducing the overall drink quantity. These are drinking men and women whose alcohol use isn’t at a level appropriate for detox, but who want to drink less. For these individuals creating an exercise routine can be a powerful way to decrease the amount of alcohol consumption. Often these are people who want to continue drink, they just want to manage their drinking better.
Moving our bodies increases mindfulness around how we’re feeling physically and psychologically. It can improve our mental health as well as our sleep. If you go to a gym or health club for your fitness routine it can also foster a sense of community. (Different from a social group where drinking is the core activity.)
Exercise can also be an important tool to counteract what an aggressive drinking culture. This is especially true during a time of stress (like a pandemic), when more people turn to alcohol as a way of coping with uncertainty. Exercise has a positive impact on mental health and reducing anxiety — many of the reasons why people are reaching for alcohol in first place.
Drinking as habit
When people drink to unwind at the end of the day, the habit can quickly become detrimental to their health.
A gray-area drinker might regularly have a glass of wine while they cook dinner. Then drink another glass with their meal. And then maybe have one more afterword.
That person is not an alcoholic, per se, if they are not drinking nightly. However, having three glasses of wine a night is way over the CDC recommendation of seven drinks or less per week for women, and even more than the 15-drink limit per week for men. People may consider themselves to be casual drinkers, but they are going over that threshold of what is recommended to maintain optimal health. They are also posing a risk for real alcohol dependency.
Consider creating a weekly fitness plan and scheduling workouts during times when the urge to use alcohol is strongest. If somebody is drinking out of habit or boredom, then they might think, ‘I’m not sure what to do between 5:30 and 7 every night when I usually have a glass of wine or beer. A good idea would be to consider a gym visit or a yoga class or go for a run or walk to change up your habits.
It doesn’t need to be a hardcore workout, even a brisk walk is effective.
Benefits of exercise
If physical activity were a medicine, “it would be the most helpful medication ever invented,” says Dr. Edward Laskowski, a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“Sometimes we ignore those foundational things in search of a magic bullet,” he said. “Physical activity has a proven benefit.”
Laskowski noted how alcohol use can cause long-term harm across the body — damaging the liver, brain and cardiovascular system, as well as increasing obesity for starters.
When used to support sobriety, physical activity can replace the good feelings that drinkers seek by increasing the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. More specifically, dopamine and serotonin help maintain mood and increase our motivation and energy. The endorphins behind a so-called “runner’s high” create feelings of pleasure and reduce pain. These neurotransmitters have been proven to increase in quantity with exercise.
One irony is of how “gray area drinkers” reach for alcohol to improve their mood and help them fall asleep — but how, in fact, alcohol can exacerbate depression and reduce restorative sleep. In the moment, alcohol reduces your anxiety, but by morning, it makes things worse. People are using it to address anxiety and stress, and it’s causing more anxiety and stress. Alcohol might make you fall asleep a little bit quicker, but then it disrupts your sleep later during the sleep cycle, so you’re waking up at three o’clock in the morning and you can’t go back to sleep.
Fitness can also build confidence and self-esteem as you set goals and meet them. And creating an exercise routine not only can strengthen a new habit around reducing alcohol use, but help people view their health and well-being more holistically.
North Dayton Addiction offers a variety of options to help you recover from problematic alcohol use on your own terms. Our private, individualized program focuses on meeting you where you’re at to help turn short term goals into long term results. Whether you are looking to become abstinent immediately, or gradually reduce your intake through The Sinclair Method (naltrexone by mouth one hour prior to drinking) we can help guide you down the path that best suits your needs.
If you are interested to learn about changing your relationship with alcohol (for good), LiveChat with a recovery specialist by clicking the bubble in the bottom right corner, or call or text 937 365 HELP. Our program is available for anyone in the state of Ohio, Indiana, or Florida.