Investigators highlight potential of exercise in addressing substance abuse in teens

February 13, 2018, Case Western Reserve University

Exercise has numerous, well-documented health benefits. Could it also play a role in preventing and reducing substance misuse and abuse in adolescents? This is the intriguing question that a team of investigators from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Cleveland Clinic seeks to answer.

In a review article recently published in Birth Defects Research, the trio of researchers supplies a rationale for the use of , particularly assisted exercise, in the prevention and adjunctive treatment of substance-use disorders - including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and heroin. (Adjunctive treatments supplement the primary treatment when tackling a disease, while examples of assisted exercise include the pedaling of a fellow cyclist on a tandem bicycle and a specially designed indoor cycle which provides mechanical assistance to pedal faster.)

"Although use-rates for most have remained relatively stable, the frequency of marijuana use and the perception that regular marijuana use is not harmful has increased in adolescents," said the piece's lead author, Nora L. Nock, PhD, associate professor of population and quantitative health sciences at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine. "In addition, nonmedical use of opioids has increased in teens, particularly in the South, Midwest, and rural low-income communities."

A chief reason for teen substance use is that risk-taking behaviors accelerate during these years, with a goal and subsequent feeling of reward. Underdeveloped connections, or an "imbalance," between cognitive and emotional decision-making mechanisms in the brain are present in all adolescents as a natural process, resulting in impulsive or risky behaviors. "We think that substance use, which may cause adverse structural and functional brain changes, may exacerbate this imbalance, potentially leading to substance-use disorders as well as other behavioral problems," said Nock. "Exercise may help to reinforce these underdeveloped connections between reward and regulatory processes and offset reward-seeking from substance use in adolescents."

While encouraging exercise in all teens, Nock and co-authors, Sonia Minnes, PhD, associate professor of social work at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and Jay L. Alberts, PhD, Edward F. and Barbara A. Bell Family Endowed Chair at Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, and assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, propose assisted exercise as a potentially superior solution for preventing or helping end substance misuse. They have previously shown that mechanical assistance in pedaling for patients with Parkinson's disease leads to cycling rates as much as 35 percent faster than unaided cycling, leading to increased activity in select cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain.

"Our team has shown that assisted exercise can improve central motor control processing and other functioning in Parkinson's disease patients," said Alberts. "This new work shows forced exercise also may also provide particular benefits to substance use disorder patients, especially those with dopamine deficits - which can result from drug use, poor nutrition, stress, and lack of sleep, and result in depression, fatigue, apathy, and mood swings."

Drawing on this and other research, the authors hypothesize that assisted exercise may provide particular benefits to substance-use disorder patients. "We believe," they write in the piece, that "exercise (and, potentially assisted exercise) should be included as an adjunctive component to existing substance use treatment programs and should be offered as a preventative measure to adolescents at high risk for substance abuse based on their family history, mental health, genetic and neurocognitive profiles and other risk factors."

Given the shortage of randomized trials in adolescents, additional studies are needed to determine which dose (frequency, intensity, duration, length), type (aerobic, resistance training) and format (assisted, standard) of exercise is most effective. More broadly, the authors write that "assisted exercise ... might be more beneficial than standard [exercise] for a variety of diseases and conditions, [such as] ... obesity and neurological diseases including Parkinson's."

Their next steps include formally testing, via a randomized trial, assisted cycling vs. standard cycling as an adjunctive treatment in substance-abuse disease.

Explore further: Medication-assisted treatment underused in teen opioid addicts

More information: Nora L. Nock et al, Neurobiology of substance use in adolescents and potential therapeutic effects of exercise for prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, Birth Defects Research (2017). DOI: 10.1002/bdr2.1182

Related Stories

Medication-assisted treatment underused in teen opioid addicts

August 24, 2016
(HealthDay)—Resources should be increased to promote use of medication-assisted treatment of opioid addicted adolescents and young adults, according to a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published ...

Medication assisted treatment is option for opioid use disorder

December 12, 2017
Of the 20.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2015, two million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 591,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin, ...

Large declines seen in teen substance abuse, delinquency

October 25, 2017
More than a decade of data indicates teens have become far less likely to abuse alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs, and they also are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting and stealing, according ...

Exercise aids recovery from brain injury

November 20, 2017
Exercise is an important part of recovery for people with brain injury, University of Queensland researchers have found.

Teens who misuse pain meds are more likely to abuse drugs as adults

July 27, 2016
A new University of Michigan study about substance abuse confirms why parents should properly dispose of leftover prescription opioids.

Pot may alter brain function of some with HIV

November 28, 2017
(HealthDay)—Using marijuana when you have HIV could lead to problems with brain function if you also abuse alcohol or drugs, a new study finds.

Recommended for you

Gaming or gambling? Online transactions blur boundaries

June 28, 2018
In-game purchasing systems, such as 'loot boxes', in popular online games resemble gambling and may pose financial risks for vulnerable players, according to gambling psychology researchers at the University of Adelaide.

Exercise helps treat addiction by altering brain's dopamine system

May 28, 2018
New research by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions has identified a key mechanism in how aerobic exercise can help impact the brain in ways that may support treatment—and even prevention strategies—for ...

Warning labels on alcohol containers highly deficient, new research shows

May 21, 2018
Current health warning labels on alcohol beverage containers in New Zealand are highly deficient, new research from the University of Otago, Wellington shows.

Serving smaller alcoholic drinks could reduce the U.K.'s alcohol consumption

May 14, 2018
New research published in Addiction, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool and Sheffield, highlights the potential benefits of reducing the standard serving size of alcoholic beverages.

Anti-alcoholism drug shows promise in animal models

May 3, 2018
Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have successfully tested in animals a drug that, they say, may one day help block the withdrawal symptoms and cravings that incessantly coax people with alcoholism to drink. ...

FDA-approved drugs to treat diabetes and obesity may reduce cocaine relapse and help addicted people break the habit

April 28, 2018
Cocaine and other drugs of abuse hijack the natural reward circuits in the brain. In part, that's why it's so hard to quit using these substances. Moreover, relapse rates hover between 40 and 60 percent, similar to rates ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.