Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Exercise and Substance Abuse Prevention

Don't know how I missed this in my previous post about exercise and recovery, but there have been some articles published about the effectiveness of exercise and sports as actual deterrents to substance abuse. About a year ago, the Associated Press posted an article about exercise as a prevention tool. The National Institute on Drug Abuse received a $4 million grant to explore this further. "Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in so many areas of physical and mental health," said Dr. Nora Volkow, NIDA Director. "This cross-disciplinary meeting is designed to get scientists thinking creatively about its potential role in substance abuse prevention."

There has been other research: Brown University took smokers to the gym three times a week and found adding the exercise to a smoking-cessation program doubled women's chances of successfully kicking the habit. The quitters who worked out got an extra benefit: They gained half as much weight as women who managed to quit without exercising, says lead researcher Dr. Bess Marcus.

''Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, it helps the body detoxify, it puts you on a better cycle of physical behavior, and it leads to decreased stress. It also improves thinking and mental function and decreases your tendency toward addiction,'' said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist at New York University Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine in New York City.

For example, ''there's evidence that exercise is maybe the best non-pharmacological antidepressant we have - studies have shown that it works better than some drugs. It's also a great anti-anxiety intervention,'' said James Maddux, a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and an expert on the mind-body health connection.

I know when I was in treatment, I used exercise as a type of coping tool- gaining a "runner's high" and creating a challenge to complete. I still work out today as a way of keeping my cravings (especially around nicotine!) at bay. Not to mention the fact that working out creates chemical changes in our mind and body to make us feel better and happier. I know my mood has improved since I started working out more often. For now, let's list exercise as a tool in a toolkit for fighting addiction- it's not the end-all/be-all, but it's another way to encourage this next generation to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.

If you're looking for a great blog about exercise, staying in shape and diet advice, check out Move Ur Body- great content and advice here. Be sure to check out Phoenix Multisport, a group in Boulder, CO who uses exercise as a recovery tool. And Sober Living By The Sea, where I work, provides physical activity to their patients as an ongoing part of treatment.

Here's a great video about Todd Crandell of Racing For Recovery, an individual who used triathlons to help defeat his own addiction:

And Jaywalker Lodge, an extended care program for men who have been through multiple addiction treatments, does expeditions every year. Here's a video of their winter expedition:

As always, follow me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn. Become a fan of the blog on Facebook. And see you later.


  1. So, how do I break my marathon habit now??

  2. Hey, thanks for your article! I totally agree! even though I have never had the need for drug addiction help, exercise has helped me not want to smoke, I eat better now, I actually have more energy, I just feel better over all.