Endurance exercise can be used to effectively treat drug addiction, according to researchers from the University of Arizona. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers measured the "neurobiological rewards" of treadmill running in 10 people, eight dogs and eight ferrets. The human brain experiences a chemical reward after long periods of exercise, and there is evidence to show that this can be used as a way that incentivizes those battling addiction.
Exercise provides a "high" that could be important for addicts battling cravings. In addition to decreasing anxiety and stress, physical activity helps increase levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure, is often diminished over time by substance abuse.
Beyond recovery, exercise can help mitigate brain damage caused by drug dependency. In a 2012 study published in the neuroscience journal Synapse, rats were given high doses of methamphetamine until the drug burned out their dopamine and serotonin receptors. After the substance was taken away, half of the rats were left alone in their cages, while the others were made to run. The results showed that the running rats significantly reduced the meth-induced brain damage, and had begun to repair their dopamine and serotonin receptors. For the rats that stayed in their cages, the negative effects of the drug lingered.
Many drug rehabilitation centers are seeing the benefit of adding exercise to their treatment plans.
"The 12 steps are the priority, and exercise is a coping skill and an outlet that involves learning how to take better care of your physical being," said Jennifer Dewey, fitness director for the Betty Ford Center, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. "It's one of the critical components of sustaining sobriety."
If someone you love is battling drug addiction, it's important that you seek help immediately. The experienced staff at Intervention Services can help to bring your friend or relative back into full recovery.