Believe it or not, running and jalapeños may hold the key to recovery for some of you. This is about addiction running, and the way that my brain, the addict’s brain, uniquely over-responds to pleasurable experiences, and jalapeños.
I had never been much of an athlete when I first started running. Yet, through some strange insidious progression I found myself running a 5k race. Then I ran a 10k race. Then I ran a Half-Marathon. And finally, I ran a full marathon. In a little less than a year I went from barely being able to run a mile to running 26.2 miles in just slightly under five hours. If you look through any Running Magazine, you will see that quite a few distance runners (including myself) report to being recovering addicts.
Let’s Look at Science
The scientific view of disease of addiction says that the reason I am an addict is because of a dysfunction in my brain that causes an over-active reward system. When a drug, such as heroin or cocaine, is introduced into my body it triggers the release of a large amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This makes me feel good; really good.
This function evolved within the brain in order to reinforce activities that are conducive to survival such as reproducing, eating, and accomplishing goals. However, my brain releases such vast amounts of dopamine that nothing else feels anywhere near as good as doing drugs.
With addiction running my life, nothing mattered. Not basic human needs like eating, sleeping, and safety. When I use drugs, nothing else matters. Not family. Not friends. Nothing.
When I first decided to try and get off of drugs, my brain did not magically return to its original “set-point” of pleasure. So when I was newly sober I felt emotionally numb, depressed, anxious, and pessimistic. Being sober wasn’t much fun. So, I got high.
I later learned that I was experiencing was perfectly normal and even had a name: post acute withdrawal syndrome. Basically, when people first get sober they tend to feel pretty bad and when addicts feel bad they tend to get loaded. Therefore, an important part of early recovery is helping people feel better.
How Does This Affect Recovery?
Endurance sports create a significant amount of brain activity. When it comes to addiction running is one of the best options. Of particular note is the phenomenon known as “runners high” which results from a release of endocannabinoids within the reward system of the brain while running. One study demonstrated that long–distance running lead to an increase in brain production of the amino acid dynorphin mRNA, similar to that experienced with the ingestion of cocaine. So, running makes you feel good.
This “runners high” reveals in lab studies to diminish drug-seeking behavior. In a study published in 2000, evidence clearly demonstrated that mice with addictions to nicotine showed a significant decrease in drug seeking behaviors when they engaged in long session of wheel running. If running can help the mice stay sober, it can certainly help me. Right?
So, What’s the Deal with Jalapeños?
I eat a lot of jalapeños. I put spicy stuff on everything I eat. When I am at restaurants, I regularly ask the waiter to bring me whatever the spiciest thing on the menu is. It turns out, that Jalapeños, and most other peppers, contain a chemical called capsaicin. This natural chemical is what creates the sensation of heat in spicy food, and it also triggers the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters.
A recent study, which observed the effects of capsaicin on the brain through a series of fMRIs, also demonstrated that there was an increase in blood flow to the brain. Increased blood flow effectively hyper-oxygenates the blood, which can cause an improvement in cognitive functioning and therefore an improvement in stress management. Basically, jalapeños make people feel good, and people who feel good don’t do drugs.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that if you run a marathon and snort some Habanero salsa you’ll stay sober the rest of your life. The 12-steps have to be the cornerstone of any lasting program of recovery. But, for me, and at least a few others, running and jalapeños, make recovery a lot more fun.
End the Addiction Running Your Life
Of course, with addiction running your life, jalapeños and exercise aren’t all you need to combat addiction. You need comprehensive addiction treatment programs from a rehab facility. To learn more about exercise and addiction recovery at the Last Resort Recovery, call us today at 877-287-0785.