Exercise May Boost Recovery From Alcohol Dependence

Posted on June 20th, 2014

Exercise May Boost Recovery From Alcohol DependenceIndividuals who struggle with a substance use disorder are also at increased risk for other mental health symptoms, such as those associated with depression and anxiety. Treatment for substance abuse often involves screening for other physical and mental health problems that may impact treatment effectiveness.

The substance abuse treatment industry is moving more toward a whole-body approach to addressing addiction. A patient who is being treated for alcohol dependence, for instance, may struggle to recover if he or she is also battling symptoms of undiagnosed depression.

In addition, treating mental health conditions like addiction and depression may have a significant tie to physical health. An article appearing in the Brown Daily Herald highlights a study that may provide evidence of a way to boost the recovery of alcohol dependent patients.

The study was conducted by Richard Brown, professor of psychiatry and human behavior, who is also on staff at Butler Hospital. The results were published in the Journal of Substance Abuse and Treatment.

The results of the study show that outcomes for alcohol dependent individuals may benefit from aerobic exercise. Those who began a regular aerobic exercise routine in the early stage of recovery from alcohol dependence were able to decrease their consumption of alcohol.

Stemming from a long-term interest in the benefits exercise may offer for those recovering from mental health symptoms, Brown began his research after noting the lack of such work published in scientific literature.

Brown set up a gym in a balcony area of Butler Hospital and installed exercise equipment and a sound system to ensure music was available to patients. For 12 weeks, 25 patients met and exercised together.

The patients were brought in to exercise only once per week because Brown believed that the patients would be less likely to quit the regimen once the 12 weeks were up. With only one session per week, Brown hoped that the patients could easily integrate the workout into their lives. However, the researchers worked with the participants to talk with them about other ways to get exercise during the week.

The patients were evaluated for their drinking habits through interviews and questionnaires, with researchers simply seeking to determine whether exercise resulted in a reduction in alcohol consumed.

The results showed that alcohol dependent patients experienced a decline in the amount of alcohol consumed when participating in aerobic exercise in addition to normal treatment techniques.

Ana Abrantes, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior, as well as a co-author of the study, told the Brown Daily Herald that any clinician working with alcohol dependent patients in early recovery should encourage the patient to engage in aerobic exercise.

The participants enrolled in the study were recruited from a treatment program at Butler Hospital, as well as from the community. The participants cited the benefits of the exercise program, saying that it introduced structure into their lives and gave them an alternative to drinking in their free time.

Researchers noted that, in addition to improvements in drinking rates, the participants also experienced an overall positive experience and an increased level of confidence that seemed to spill into other areas of life.

The study’s findings present preliminary information about an area that may receive a high level of research attention in the future. A larger study may be necessary to better understand the role that exercise can play in a more comprehensive treatment program for alcohol dependence.

The current study included a control group that received only information about health and exercise, but even information alone prompted an increase in physical activity among the participants in the control group.

The findings have been responded to with excitement, as many experts consider how the results achieved with those in treatment for alcohol dependence may be replicated for other types of substance abuse and mental disorders.

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