From Risk to Promise

Martial Arts: A Path to Recovery for Substance Abuse Survivo…

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From Risk to Promise

Martial Arts: A Path to Recovery for Substance Abuse Survivors

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50% of people 12 and older have used illicit drugs at least one time in their life. 


There have been 700k drug overdose deaths since the year 2000.


A dark, suffocating narrative unfolds beneath the surface of normal, everyday routines in America. It’s a story of fractured lives, of individuals swept into a current they never intended to ride.

Substance abuse casts a long and unforgiving shadow, one that stalks and devastates as it cuts across socioeconomic lines, races, and ages. It’s a barbed wire that weaves through families, neighborhoods, and communities, leaving scars that are often invisible but etched deep into the fabric of our society.

It isn’t always the back alley filled with needles and filth – it is the next-door neighbor you’ve known for decades, the teacher that has taught your kids for years or maybe even your best friend that you’ve spent your entire life admiring.

Substance abuse knows no bounds and can sink its contaminated talons into anyone who exposes themselves to it. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), among Americans aged 12 years and older, 37.309 million were current illegal drug users (used within the last 30 days) as of 2020.

  • 5% of Americans 12 and over used drugs in the last month, a 3.8% increase year-over-year (YoY).
  • 277 million or 21.4% of people 12 and over have used illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs within the last year.
  • 543 million or 50.0% of people aged 12 and over have illicitly used drugs in their lifetime.
  • Usership among people aged 12 and over is down 0.4% YoY.
  • 522 million Americans 12 and over drink alcohol.
  • 320 million or 20.4% of them have an alcohol use disorder.
  • 4% of illegal drug users have a drug disorder.
  • 7% of those with drug disorders have an opioid disorder; this includes prescription pain relievers or “pain killers” and heroin.
  • Drug abuse often results in comorbidity – nearly 50% of people who have substance abuse disorder also experience mental illness.

For those who have felt the pain of drowning within the hell of substance abuse and its consequences, relief and recovery can seem implausible if not impossible. However, there is hope.

We have found that with other mediums (counseling, medical intervention, etc.) martial arts is an excellent partner in helping substance abuse survivors work through some of their challenges in the recovery process.

Let’s discuss how recovering individuals can rebuild what they’ve lost through learning frustration tolerance, maintaining a positive outlet for energy/anxiety, and coaching a personal growth journey through our 15 Footsteps of Character Development that help establish and grow positive mental and emotional health responses.

Frustration Tolerance

Frustration tolerance is a valuable tool regardless of what stage you are in throughout your life.

Stress stands as a well-documented disruptor of mood and a verified underminer of overall well-being, supported by extensive research. “Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. If it’s left unchecked, it can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes” (Mayo Clinic, 2021).

Utilizing the tools at your disposal within the world of martial arts is an excellent option to learn frustration tolerance and decrease your level of stress.

Martial arts, as a discipline, is the endeavor to master movements. An illustrative instance of this is the adeptness to seamlessly transition from one stance to another. Novices in this art strive to shift between stances, yet they may struggle to uphold balance and attain flawless execution of the stance. This challenge brings about a mild sense of frustration and stress. It’s worth noting that this frustration is relatively inconsequential compared to more profound life challenges. However, the solution is readily apparent and uncomplicated.

With modest effort, practitioners can repetitively practice the transition between stances, refining their proficiency within a relatively brief timeframe. The frustration encountered is minimal, and the solution is straightforward. This iterative process persists across an indefinite sequence of progressively challenging and intense movements.

Upon reaching the intermediate and advanced stages of martial arts training, students cultivate the capacity to navigate intricate combinations with minimal frustration. This skill of effectively handling frustration extends beyond the realm of martial arts and is applicable to a broad spectrum of life’s challenges.

Positive Outlet for Energy/Anxiety

Martial arts is a powerful tool for releasing energy and anxiety. Training involves rigorous physical activity, which triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. This release creates a natural high which is a similar kind of release people experience when they abuse substances. During recovery, exercise can help reintroduce healthier levels of endorphins back into the body. (Riverside Recovery, 2023).

Research has also shown that regular physical activity reduces stress levels, improves mood, and helps individuals cope better with life. Additionally, exercise can also help reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol (Riverside Recovery, 2023).

In addition, engaging in dynamic movements, intense workouts, and focused techniques allows practitioners to channel and discharge built-up energy, helping to reduce feelings of restlessness or tension. This physical exertion not only aids in burning off excess energy but also promotes a sense of accomplishment and vitality.

As individuals climb the ranks and gain more confidence in their abilities, they often experience enhanced self-esteem. This enhanced self-esteem can counter feelings of helplessness or inadequacy often associated with anxiety and provides a positive outlet for those who are suffering from years of substance abuse negativity and recovery challenges.

The 15 Footsteps of Character Development

We have put together 15 different characteristics that we believe are vital to any process of personal growth/skill acquisition journey. These character traits are based upon the idea that an individual is seeking to find purpose, confidence, and discipline while working towards a lifestyle of self-determination and passion.

They are an excellent foundation for any individual looking to improve their current situation, so check out the blog on the 15 Footsteps HERE to read more!

The journey from the clutches of addiction to the embrace of recovery is one that requires unwavering dedication, and martial arts offer a unique and powerful toolkit to aid in this endeavor.

The principles of discipline and perseverance that are inherent in martial arts training parallel the tenacity required to navigate the arduous road that is the decision to begin recovery. It isn’t always an easy decision.

The fusion of mental fortitude, emotional resilience, and physical prowess that is built through martial arts training acts as a formidable armor against the trials of the substance abuse recovery process. Those who undertake this process need this armor more than most of us understand.

At its core, addiction often arises from a yearning to fill emotional voids or to escape the burdens of reality. Martial arts, with their emphasis on mindfulness, introspection, and self-awareness, provide a sanctuary where individuals can confront their inner demons and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

Through the rigors of training, the mind is calmed, creating fertile ground for personal growth and healing. In the realm of addiction recovery, relapses and setbacks are not uncommon. However, the skills acquired through martial arts – the ability to persevere through challenges, to rise after a fall, and to continually strive for improvement – become invaluable allies in the face of adversity.

With each perfected movement, individuals forge a path toward healing, reclaiming their lives from the desperate claws of addiction. Through the practice of martial arts, they not only rebuild their physical and mental well-being but also uncover a renewed sense of purpose and hope that illuminates the path to a brighter future.


Mayo Clinic. (2021). Stress Management. Retrieved from:,heart%20disease%2C%20obesity%20and%20diabetes.

National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. (2023). Drug Abuse Statistics. Retrieved from

Riverside Recovery (2023). Does Exercise Help in Addiction Recover? Retrieved from,cravings%20for%20drugs%20or%20alcohol.

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