Impact of Exercise on Addiction Relapse in Adolescents

Impact of Exercise on Addiction Relapse in Adolescents

Substance use and addiction are serious public health concerns among adolescents. Those struggling with addiction must get help from a qualified addiction treatment center. The goal of treatment is to teach adolescents skills that will prevent relapse and provide them with space and tools to process trauma and other aspects of their life that have contributed to their addiction. Exercise helps adolescents manage relapse risk in multiple ways, including alleviating numerous factors contributing to addiction and relapse in youth. Exercise also assists them in creating healthier routines.

Preventing Relapse with Exercise

The primary goal of addiction treatment in adolescents is to facilitate education, awareness, and behavioral changes that support sobriety and prevent relapse. Many pieces to the puzzle are necessary to achieve this goal. Exercise is a habit and lifestyle change that decreases relapse by managing factors that contribute directly to it. This includes improving mental health, social support, stress, and boredom.

Mental Health

Addiction and mental health are closely tied and contribute to each other. As such, mental health is a contributing factor to both addiction itself and relapse. If mental health and related disorders are not managed, they commonly lead to relapse. One way for adolescents to manage mental health symptoms is to get an adequate amount of exercise. It is well known that exercise positively impacts overall mental health. Additionally, research has found that physical activity decreases the occurrence of some mental health disorders.

By improving mental health and the symptoms of mental health disorders, adolescents in recovery are more likely to stay sober. However, each individual will react in unique ways to different types, amounts, and intensities of exercise. Therefore, a process of experimentation is necessary to find the right balance of exercise for each individual.

Social Support

Adequate social support is considered one of the pillars of managing relapse, particularly during challenging times. There are many types of social support, including family and friends, peers, and counselors. Each type of social support plays an important role in an adolescent’s recovery. However, these roles will look different for each individual.

Adolescents in recovery need to build a strong support system for themselves. Often this means making changes related to those they spend time with. Exercise is one way that can help adolescents build healthy relationships and a community that helps them manage their risk of relapse. By spending time with others through exercise, they will build friendships that are centered around something other than substance use. This new community supports their needs in recovery.


In adolescents, stress is very common. Managing stress is vital to managing relapse as it is a main contributor to substance use and addiction. Many adolescents have used drugs and alcohol to self-medicate stress. Therefore, when they feel stressed in recovery, it can trigger cravings for substances.

Learning other tools to manage stress provides a healthy outlet for adolescents struggling with anxiety. This is crucial in managing relapse, as stress is a part of life. As adolescents grow and transition into adulthood, they will experience stress through work, relationships, and other parts of their lives. However, improving or building an exercise routine will provide them with the tools to manage stressful situations and build more resilience throughout their lives.


Another primary contributing factor to substance use and addiction in adolescents is boredom. When adolescents are not engaged in other activities, they are likely to seek out something different. Drugs and alcohol can serve as a type of novelty and interest for experimentation.

Exercise can help to decrease boredom. This is especially true when adolescents partake in a form of exercise they enjoy. For example, if a teen is interested in dance or martial arts, these activities can serve as both mentally and physically stimulating, giving them something else to do and decreasing their risk of relapse.

Building a Healthy Routine to Manage Relapse Risk

Education is one of the essential aspects of addiction treatment for youth. This includes helping adolescents understand the implications of their substance use and the value of treatment. However, education alone does not address the entire problem. Building a healthy routine of exercise combined with education can help adolescents create a life without drugs and alcohol.

One 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined how an exercise routine impacts addiction and relapse in adolescents. They found that adolescents who participated in an exercise intervention decreased substance use in the short-term and long-term, after a six-month follow-up. The research also indicates the value of a healthy exercise routine for adolescents to improve their mental health, self-esteem, and overall psychological state. While more research is needed to fully understand the connection, these findings indicate that building a healthy routine of exercise helps adolescents to manage the risk of relapse.

Adolescents who use drugs and alcohol need to build skills that help them to stay sober. Exercise in treatment can help teens manage relapse. It is an important life skill they can learn and integrate into their lives as part of their recovery. However, exercise interventions work best when combined with education from a trusted mental health facility. At Sustain Recovery, our programs provide essential education that helps adolescents make lifestyle changes to support their recovery. Using a multifaceted process, we meet each client where they are so they can learn the skills necessary to heal. To learn more about our programs, or to speak with a staff member, call us today at (949) 407-9052.