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The Role of Exercise in Treating Alcohol Dependence

A recent study, which will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found exercise to be a beneficial tool in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence. The results of the study highlighted exercise as being an effective and non-pharmacologic option to include in a treatment program for alcoholism

Alcohol dependence (characterized by routine cravings for and consumption of alcohol, as well as the inability to function normally without alcohol) disrupts the body’s daily circadian rhythms (i.e., the essentials for survival: sleeping, eating, and mating) that are driven by the brain’s circadian clock. Circadian timing in mammals is regulated by light and influenced by food, exercise, and social interaction.

Continual use of alcohol will determine whether one goes to bed too early or too late, not sleep soundly through the night, and create unhealthy eating schedules like eating too late, not eating enough, or overeating. Overtime, it can become a vicious and dangerous cycle. For just as alcohol abuse disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythms, circadian disruptions can lead to serious health problems and increase susceptibility to chronic alcohol abuse as well as relapse for those in recovery.

By using hamsters and their running wheels, scientists where able to determine that voluntary forms of exercise were a powerful environmental factor that influences brain health, circadian rhythms, and emotional well-being. In other words, exercise played an important role in the non-photic (or non-light) related regulation of circadian timing. And blocking access to exercise had a noted stimulatory effect on alcohol consumption. (Medical News Today)

Simply stated, the more the hamsters ran, the less alcohol they consumed. The less they ran, the more they craved and consumed alcohol. This insight makes exercise an important tool to include in any substance abuse preventative program or comprehensive rehabilitation regime.

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