Helping Adolescents Heal From Addiction Through Competitive Sports


Helping Adolescents Heal From Addiction Through Competitive Sports

Exercise programs in treatment for adolescents can help them release energy and build better health habits following treatment. Therefore, some form of exercise is generally recommended as an integral element of addiction and mental health treatment. There are many types of exercise that can be beneficial for adolescents.

Competitive sports such as martial arts can help adolescents gain skills beyond the specifics of the sport. Encouraging adolescents to participate in competitive sports allows them to build a foundation of skills that help them succeed in adulthood. Adolescents who participate in competitive sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA) get exercise while improving other aspects of their overall well-being.

Competitive Sports in Addiction Treatment for Adolescents

During addiction treatment, adolescents participate in a variety of different methods that help them heal from trauma, addiction, and mental health disorders. Competitive sports integrate well into treatment programs as a whole. By participating in competitive sports, adolescents learn social skills and improve their self-esteem and mental health.

Social Skills

Research has found that one of the many benefits of competitive sports for adolescence is social development. This is a direct result of the social engagement found in competitive sports. As a participant, they are required to learn and practice a variety of social skills with many different individuals.

When adolescents engage in competitive sports, they learn how to listen and engage in a group social setting. This is particularly helpful in learning social skills as they have to manage conflict with other individuals with whom they may or may not get along. Conflict resolution helps them build relationships with others in treatment. Additionally, it provides them with the skills required to create and maintain long-term social relationships in adulthood.

Furthermore, competitive sports help teens learn how to both win and lose. Part of competitive sports is learning how to “be a good sport” and support others even when losing. In doing so, they are more prepared for social interactions later in life as there are times in their adult lives when there will be challenges.


Getting exercise is well known to be very healthy and helpful for adolescents and adults. However, in our current culture, exercise and fitness are often neglected. Competitive sports are an effective way for teens to get physically active. Since these activities are more enjoyable for many adolescents, they also provide a blueprint for healthy habits into adulthood.

Competitive sports also give teens an outlet to healthily release mental and physical energy. Many teens in treatment have a history of trauma or a mental health disorder that causes them to have deep and powerful emotions. When they participate in competitive sports, they can work through these emotions and channel their energy into something that is not destructive.


Adolescents in treatment commonly struggle with low self-esteem. Changing the patterns that lead to low self-esteem can help them feel confident in their ability to improve their lives. However, many traditional types of therapy, such as talk therapy, can be hard to get buy-in from adolescents.

On the other hand, competitive sports are often easier for teens to engage in. By improving physical skills and competing with others, adolescents learn new thought patterns and gain confidence in their ability to improve. This, in turn, can help them in recovery as they are more likely to feel like they can learn the new skills required in treatment.

Mental Health

Addiction and mental health are closely linked. An integral part of addiction treatment is to improve mental health. Research has found that competitive sports are an effective method of doing so. Encouraging adolescents to engage in competitive sports will help them heal during addiction treatment by decreasing depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, and difficulties with attention.

While competitive sports overall are effective at improving mental health in youth, MMA is particularly useful. Research published in 2019 found that adolescents who completed a 10-week intervention including MMA and talk therapy showed improved mental health. The findings indicate that MMA helped teens open up in talk therapy and was a useful activity to include in addiction treatment.

Competitive Sports: One Part of Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment for each adolescent is unique as each individual will need specific treatment modalities. Competitive sports are one option that can improve treatment as a whole. By engaging adolescents in physical competition, the individual learns social skills, gets exercise, and improves their mental health.

However, competitive sports are only one piece of the puzzle. Adolescents will have the most effective development with the addition of other treatment modalities. By engaging in talk therapy, for example, they can get the most out of their participation in an activity such as MMA during their treatment experience. In doing so, they can work with a mental health professional who can help them learn and hone the skills they are working on through competitive sports.

Adolescents with mental health disorders and addiction often have an abundance of pent-up energy. Competitive sports, including mixed martial arts, are methods that can help them develop better self-esteem, get exercise, and improve overall health as they release energy as a part of addiction treatment. At Sustain Recovery, we offer MMA as a part of our treatment program. We encourage teens to build exercise habits while learning social skills that will help them improve their mental health and thrive after treatment. Our facility provides programs that are holistic and individualized to help teens heal from trauma and addiction. To learn more about our programs or facility, call us today at (949) 407-9052.