The Effects of Exercise On Substance Abuse

There has been a push lately for research that shows whether or not exercise can help prevent substance abuse and/or aid in the recovery of addictions. Some say that there is new evidence showing that exercise can help prevent substance abuse. A study recently found that teens that exercised daily were 40% less likely to experiment with marijuana than those teens that didn’t exert physical activity. While the reasons behind these results are not fully known, it makes sense that teens that exercise and take care of their bodies may be too busy to get involved with drugs or alcohol. Exercise makes us feel good about ourselves, and helps people overcome the negative thoughts that can lead to substance abuse. Exercise is often a part of drug treatment programs, because of the distraction it provides, and the way it seems to give a boost of confidence while also relieving stress and depression.

But some of the studies now are showing what it is about exercise that helps in the struggle with addiction. Exercise stimulates endorphins, which are neurochemicals that help stabilize our mood. These neurochemicals are depleted in addicts, which leaves these individuals with negative thoughts to go along with their actions, leading them into a destructive downward cycle. With the benefits of exercise, an addict can bring positive behavior into their life to replace the substance abuse.
A study by Mark A. Smith from Davidson College suggests that physical activity can actually reduce the risk of becoming addicted to drugs. In his study, rats were less likely to ingest amphetamines if their cages had running wheels. According to Smith, exercise reduces the rewarding effects of drugs such as cocaine because it “alters the number of dopamine receptors in the brain, meaning that drugs then have less of a euphoric effect.”

Another study by Dr. Bess Marcus from Brown University found that smokers that exercised three times a week while trying to quit smoking were twice as likely to succeed as those that didn’t exercise.

However, the research in this area is minimal, and this has caused the NIDA to devote a two day conference this past summer to the topic. Scientists met in June to share their research on the connection between physical activity and the prevention of substance use. Some of the studies focused on neurobiological, developmental, and social effects of exercise and how this relates to substance abuse prevention. It was concluded at the conference that there are things scientists don’t yet understand about the role of physical activity in the prevention of addiction, but that there is some evidence that exercise aid in substance abuse prevention. However, the NIDA has plans to fund additional studies to discuss their questions about exercise. It is hoped that with further study on physical activity and its effects also on other health conditions, scientists will be more informed about the effects of exercise on substance addiction.

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