Judy Cain and her husband decided not to post bail for their daughter, Chelsey, after she was arrested for selling guns to get money for heroin. Although they were scared and upset to see their daughter sent to prison, the judge on Chelsey’s case had some shocking, but reassuring, words of encouragement.

“If you hadn’t done that, she’d be dead in 2 weeks,” the judge said.

Chelsey, like many of our guest speakers, came from a predominately white, upper class neighborhood with good schools nearby. However, just as many of our speakers have said, this does not influence a person’s chances of developing an addiction.

At first, Judy ignored Chelsey’s addiction. She would often find blackened spoons cluttered throughout their basement while Chelsey was living down there, but Judy said she never thought anything of it. Chelsey said her addiction started when she began using two or three 80 mg oxycodone pills a day. Eventually she switched to heroin, as it was cheaper and less expensive – at first.

Chelsey’s tolerance adjusted very quickly when she started using heroin, so what she thought was a “cheap habit” quickly grew into an expensive one. She eventually stopped working, sold her car for drug money and stole three guns from a man she met on craigslist to get money for more heroin. She was arrested for stealing the guns, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

While in prison, Chelsey said she started running as a distraction. Judy added that Chelsey was not an athlete growing up, but now she is in the best shape of her life. When she was released from prison, Chelsey ran the 10-mile Blue Cross Broad Street run as her first race. She quickly upgraded to running marathons and triathlons.

The success Chelsey has with using running as a coping skill makes me wonder if exercise should be used more to treat addiction. It is very common for doctors and therapists to recommend exercise as a treatment for minor mental illnesses, but I have never considered physical activity a primary coping skill for people in recovery. I wonder if some people in recovery enjoy exercise because the “runners high” helps them combat their urges to use substances. It would be interesting to find out more about how exercise can help people in recovery, and if rehabs or other treatment programs have had any success with implementing programs that require or encourage exercise among patients.