Can Exercise Be the Salvation for Substance Abuse?

Editor’s Note: This commentary was written by Dr Mehmet Oz and Scott Strode.

Drug addiction traps the sick in perpetual darkness. The road to recovery can be long and lonely, and the struggle to find the light at the end of the tunnel is daunting. Combine those feelings of hopelessness with the social isolation and uncertainty of a global pandemic, and you’ve got a perfect storm of desperation.

In fact, WADA recently reported that since the quarantine began, more than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as lingering concerns for people with mental illness or disorder. related to substance use.

The problem is clear. But to really understand how we can help those who are struggling, we need to speak with people who have faced and conquered the demons of substance use firsthand. Scott Strode started drinking alcohol at the age of 11. At age 15, hard drugs entered her life, starting a nine-year battle against substance abuse. He had become one of 20 million people across the country with substance use disorders, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

In Scott’s words, “At 24, after using cocaine for almost 24 hours straight, I lay curled up on my bathroom floor. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest and a whirlwind of thoughts ran through my mind. “What if this is how my story ends?” I said to myself. I pictured my mother shocked and devastated as police broke the heartbreaking news that her son had overdosed on the bathroom floor.

Not knowing how to begin my recovery journey, I ran into a local boxing gym. Being away from home and being physically active became a weapon against my substance use disorder that I hadn’t anticipated.

I devoted myself to physical activity, but it was not enough. I wanted to help others find the clarity I had found.

After celebrating his ninth year of sobriety in 2006, Scott founded The Phoenix, a sober and active community that has helped nearly 40,000 people recover over the past 14 years. His story is presented in Believe in people, a new book by New York Times bestselling author and entrepreneur Charles Koch and President and CEO of Stand Together Brian Hooks. Earlier this year, the Stand Together Foundation committed up to $ 50 million to The Phoenix to help fight addiction across America, bringing the recovery programs to 26 new cities by 2025, in serving a million people.

While closures linked to a pandemic forced gyms across the country to close, The Phoenix has used digital approaches, including virtual on-demand and live-streamed programming to prevent people from relapsing during these difficult times.

As the Phoenix moved its programs online, offering everything from yoga, strength training, and meditation classes, their reach grew in all 50 states and around the world. Surprisingly, 80% of active participants in The Phoenix are still sober three months later.

Too often, we keep our struggles in the dark. The Phoenix helps enlighten those who see no way forward. They do this by believing in people. And our nation desperately needs these bottom-up solutions, despite our top-down world, and social entrepreneurs like Scott are closest to the problem and understand it.

According to data collected from ambulance teams, hospitals and law enforcement, overdoses jumped 18% in the first month after the COVID-19 stops. In April, that number rose to 29%. In May, it rose to 42%.

Thus, innovation is more than ever necessary in this space. The Phoenix is ​​working hard to lower the barrier to entry, making each class free – the only entrance fee is 48 hours of continuous sobriety. Each activity is centered on a culture of inclusion and encouragement. Community and human resilience are at the heart of recovery, and the Phoenix model shows us that people successfully struggle with addiction while encouraging each other inside and outside the gym. They use their inner strength and autonomy to stay sober.

Scott’s story brings hope to those who may not see a way out of the dark. It reminds everyone that no matter how bad the situation is, especially right now, there is so much to believe in people and their ability to break away from their past.

Dr Mehmet Oz (

@Dr Oz

) is attending physician at New York-Presbyterian / Columbia University Irving Medical Center and host of The Dr Oz Show.

Scott Strode is the founder of The Phoenix, a 501 (c) (3) gym and support system for those recovering from substance use disorders.

WebMD Commentary


The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have any questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This commentary is intended for informational purposes only.© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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