Running is certainly my addiction. And running apparently has a positive role to play in preventing relapse among recovering substance abuse addicts. Running replaces some of the “feel-good” brain chemicals that are lost during substance abuse withdrawal and recovery.
John Ratey, M.D., has been preaching the lace-‘em-up cure for years. The associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston says that even a little bit of running can make a big difference. “What happens immediately when you begin to run is you get a boost in dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin, just as if you were taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin,” he says. – The Runner’s High, Runner’s World.
I know the good feeling of running, and I concur with the author that not running has an effect that while technically not withdrawal, does not make me feel good. I too share his sense of being “sluggish, unfocused, sometimes irritable.” Hardly anything life shattering, but long time runners know that there is a withdrawal.
Yet a recent article in Huffington Post suggests that addiction is socially mediated. The initial cause and possible maintenance of addiction is a result of social isolation, loneliness, and a sense of being disconnected from people. Oddly enough, I run to disconnect. I am one of the 49% of runners who prefer to run alone. Running time is “me time.”
Using running, however, as an approach to reduce relapse rates among substance abuse addicts appears to require a social component. Social isolation delays the positive impact on the healing of the brain by running, according to a 2011 study. This reinforces the idea that addiction is intimately connected to social support and social connectivity.
As for whether a recovering runner is swapping one addiction for another, I would echo the words of Caleb Daniloff in the Runner’s High article:
“I can understand why people think I’ve merely traded one addiction for another. But ultimately I find this thought too narrow. Unlike boozing, running has never filled me with shame or regret, not once turned me into a monster. I have never stolen, lied, or cheated for running. I don’t need more miles to get the same effect. The trade that, literally, took place was sobriety for addiction, a dark central rhythm recast in light.”
Add to that the impact on cardio-vascular health, potential impact on obesity, preventative effects in terms of high blood pressure, diabetes, and perhaps heart disease. This is an addiction with a difference. A very positive difference.