Note: This post was submitted to Student Caffé by Jackie Cortez. We would like to thank her for her submission and credit her as the author of this blog post.
Developing a substance abuse disorder is easier than you might think. In fact, the 2016 Monitoring the Future Survey found that over 32% of college students reported binge drinking in the previous two weeks. Binge drinking, and heavy drinking in general, can segue into an alcohol use disorder if not managed and contained. Furthermore, during college, students may choose to experiment with recreational drugs. Not every student who tries a party drug will develop an addiction, but they do happen, and they can happen to anyone at any age.
If you are in recovery for a substance abuse disorder, you know that staying sober is no easy task. Even when you’ve eliminated your triggers, the desire to use often remains. However, it is possible to overcome your addiction through treatment, education, and self-care; the latter of which includes a combination of exercise and exposure to nature.
We already know that you need regular physical activity to build and maintain a strong body. But working your muscles does more than add bulk. The Mayo Clinic reports that regular exercise can give you a permanent emotional lift. Even something as seemingly trivial as a 30-minute walk can stimulate the release of the very same brain chemicals as do drugs and alcohol. In fact, exercise programs have become an important part of the curriculum at drug rehabilitation and education centers across the country. Mounting evidence suggests that running, lifting weights, and participating in team sports are activities that have the potential to become positive vices. Once the body and brain get used to the natural high associated with exercise, cravings for drugs may be replaced with a focus on physical fitness. It’s an alternative reward that can help keep you sober.
Why exposure to nature?
Spending time outdoors is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. This is especially true for addicts, as being outside provides a number of surprising health benefits that can help you keep your bad habits kicked to the curb. The National Wildlife Federation goes so far as to suggest that being outdoors can mend your spirit in a way that almost instantly melts away stress, which is one of the many reasons you may long for drugs or alcohol. Exposure to the outdoors and, specifically, enjoyable nature-based activities such as hiking and camping, may also ease anxiety and depression.
While genetics plays a role in whether or not you will become addicted to a substance, your environment also has something to say about your vulnerability. Juan Martinez, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, is an excellent example of how bonding with nature can change the course of your life. Martinez grew up Los Angeles and was headed down a path toward drugs and gang violence by the time he entered high school. After a rather nasty run in with school administrators, Martinez was given the option to spend his days in detention or as part of the school’s environmental club. He chose the club. Given the assignment to grow something, he chose to cultivate a jalapeno plant. Within weeks, he was a new person and felt completely revitalized. Today, he heads the Natural Leaders Network and has spoken at the White House on two separate occasions.
Combining Exposure to Nature and Exercise
Experts at Behavioral Wellness & Recovery assert that both physical fitness and time with nature are essential to substance abuse treatment and aftercare. Short vacations, weekend getaways, or even a few hours in the woods are excellent ways to focus on your well-being. When you deal with your stress and spend time on self-care, you will become physically and emotionally strong enough to stay clean for yourself and your loved ones. In Pennsylvania, not far from Behavioral Wellness & Recovery’s campus, is Hickory Run State Park, a destination often suggested to individuals who want to connect with nature due to its nearly 16,000 acres of mood-boosting mountains. The park offers a number of rustic camping cottages, making it the perfect destination to retreat from the world and enjoy the heart-, body-, and soul-healing benefits of hunting, fishing, swimming, hiking, and more.
Of course, you may not live near Hickory Run State Park, but no matter where you do live, there is always a chance to get outside. Every state boasts state parks, wildlife refuges, or recreation areas where individuals can get outside and enjoy the scenery, and that doesn’t even get into the 59 national parks that you’ll find spread throughout the country. You don’t have to be an avid outdoorsman to reap the benefits of nature; simply enjoy a walk or a hike. And you don’t even have to visit a state or federal site. Strolls in local parks, walks along a lake or river, and long walks through your neighborhood still get you the exposure that you need. With any luck, you’ll find your cravings subside with each passing day.
Breaking the chains of addiction requires self-control and constant renewal of your commitment to sobriety. The process may be difficult but, by taking care of your mental and physical needs through exercise and outdoor exploration, you will find that the journey is more enjoyable with each step.