Exercise as it relates to Disease/Exercise Effects on Substance Addiction

The Effects of Exercise on Substance AddictionEdit

What is Addiction?Edit

Substance Addiction is defined as a chronic brain disease that involves compulsive drug use and seeking, regardless of any harmful consequences.[1] Substance Addictions this can vary from illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, and to over the counter pharmacy drugs such as pain killers. Addictions to substances such as these can have effects on both health and lifestyle, varying depending on level of addiction and the substance.

Effects of sustained substance addiction includeEdit
  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Mood swings or irrational behavior
  • Decrease in motivation
  • Decrease in performance at school/work
Possible reasons for addictionEdit
  • Genetics; family history of addiction can play a large role in a persons susceptibility to become addicted
  • Mental or personality disorders
  • Abuse or trauma
  • Use of drugs at an early age[2]

Exercise Effects on AddictionEdit


The addiction of substances have an effect on the brain and body that stimulates a particular sense. In most cases it is the stimulation of the dopamine receptors in the brain. The stimulation of these receptors induce a pleasant sensation on the brain and stimulates whats known as the 'reward parthway'.[3] How exercise increases such 'happy' feeling is still debated, most speculation is centered around endorphins and neurotransmitters in the brain. After a person has exercised dopamine receptors in the brain are stimulated,[4] if exercise is maintained on a regular program, the stimulation of the dopamine receptors will lower the addictive desire for a particular substance.[5] It has been shown however that exercise mimics the rewards of acute or chronic opiate exposure.[6] Therefore by using exercise as a healthy substitute to substance addiction, the person is able to change the addictive desires for a particular substance,


Most medications prescribed to people who suffer depression influence the brain by stimulating the dopamine receptors, just like most addictive substances do. As stated above, people who suffer depression can increase levels of these neurotransmitters via exercise. Depression is associated with addiction with 1/3 of people suffering depression experience substance addictions.[7] For more information on exercise and depression visit Exercise as a clinical treatment for depression amongst adolescents.


The effects of exercise on anxiety fall under self-efficacy. Self efficacy is described as belief of ones own ability to reach goals and complete tasks. Under anxiety symptoms this falls generally low. Research has shown however that during exercise pain and fatigue are high when first starting. However as the body develops the adaptions to exercise the pain and fatigue lessen, and self efficacy will rise reducing anxiety symptoms. Exercise will also reduce anxiety symptoms quicker and for longer than other treatments.[8]

Exercise RecommendationsEdit

Exercise Type Specifics Benefits
Aerobic low - moderate intensity Cross trainer/stair master, nature walks Increase blood flow to brain, increases heart strength
Stretching Yoga, pilates relieves stress, increases flexibility and strength
Resistance training Weight programs Increases muscle activity and size, increases self esteem

Further benefits of exercise as treatment for substance addictionsEdit

  • Change in Lifestyle
  • Positive Change in Health
  • Increase in Self Esteem
  • Increased Energy Levels
  • Reduced Stress
  • Increase Social Interaction

Research and Further ReadingEdit

* The acute effects of exercise on cigarette cravings

* Exercise - Anxiety, Depression and Stress Sensitivity

* Exercise effects on Mental Health


  1. [1]. Drugabuse.gov. 2013. The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction | National Institute on Drug Abuse. [online] Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-abuse-addiction [Accessed: 18 Oct 2013].
  2. [2], Helpguide.org. 2013. Drug Abuse and Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse. [online] Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/drug_substance_abuse_addiction_signs_effects_treatment.htm [Accessed: 18 Oct 2013]..
  3. [3], Learn.genetics.utah.edu. 2013. Drugs Alter the Brain's Reward Pathway. [online] Available at: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/drugs/ [Accessed: 18 Oct 2013].
  4. [4], Meeusen, R. and De Meirleir, K. 1995. Exercise and Brain Neurotransmission. Sports Med, 20 pp. 160-188. Available at: http://web1.ulb.ac.be/facs/ism/docs/Neurotransmission.pdf [Accessed: 21/10/13].
  5. [5], Smith, M. and Lynch, W. 2011. Exercise as a potential treatment for drug abuse: evidence from preclinical studies. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2..
  6. [6], J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1992 April; 55(4): 247–250.
  7. [7], Dualdiagnosis.org. 2013. The Double Demons of Depression and Addiction. [online] Available at: http://www.dualdiagnosis.org/resource/depression/ [Accessed: 18 Oct 2013].
  8. [8], Petruzzello, S.J., Landers, D.M., Hatfield, B.D., Kubitz, K.A., Salazar, W. (1991), 'A meta-analysis on the anxiety-reducing effects of acute and chronic exercise. Outcomes and Mechanisms', In Sports Medicine, Vol.3, March 11, pp.143-182. ISSN: 0112-1642 .