Exercise to Treat Alcohol Addiction

alcohol and exerciseA new study has found that aerobic exercise could help people recovering from alcohol addiction.

The study was led by Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour, Richard Brown and found that, in the early stages of recovery, alcoholics who began regular aerobic exercise routines lowered their alcohol consumption.


The goal of the study was to have participants create a sustainable workout routine where they exercised one day a week. Study participants also received training to help them work more exercise into their daily routines.

The study found that, in conjunction with regular treatment, exercise decreased the amount of alcohol those in recovery drank when compared to people in treatment who did not partake of regular exercise.

“Any substance abuse counsellor or mental health provider working with alcohol-dependent patients in early recovery should consider recommending that their patients engage in aerobic exercise,” said the study’s co-author, Ana Abrantes, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour.

The addition of exercise to recovery could be helping patients for a number of reasons. Many of those involved in the study said they enjoyed the structure of having an exercise regime. As many addicts lead very chaotic or unstructured lives, exercise could help fill this gap.

Another explanation could be that exercise offers a substitute to drinking. For alcoholics, drinking may be one of the only things they do. Without it, they may be bored or restless. Exercise gives them another way to spend their time.

A third plausible explanation may be that exercise acts as its own drug and could help calm some cravings for alcohol. When people exercise, they release dopamine and other chemicals that can produce positive feelings. This is a natural process and is experienced by runners, weight lifters and many other people who participate in exercise. For alcoholics, exercise might provide some positive feelings and distract from negative emotions that could push people to drink again.

In any case, the study’s findings are good news for alcoholics and treatment centres. The study authors are hoping to conduct a larger study on the issue soon so more information could be available in the future. 

To learn more about alcohol addiction, check out the Life Works Knowledge Centre.

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