Substance abuse treatment could be aided by aerobic exercise, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA).
The RIA has been established as a national leader of the progression and distribution of information on substance use disorders. Recently, the RIA researchers published their findings in a journal of the American College of Sports Medicine on the effects of aerobic exercise on people struggling with substance use disorders.
The researchers located a key mechanism in how cardio can have an effect on the brain, which may have a later impact on prevention techniques for substance abuse. Cardio has already been linked to mental health benefits but now this study has indicated that it could also help treat substance use disorders.
The New York Research Foundation funded the study, which featured animal cohorts. The researchers examined possible exercise-induced changes in dopamine signaling with male and female rats split into exercise and sedentary factions after eight weeks of age.
The exercise rats were placed on a treadmill at 10 meters a minute for five days a week for six weeks. The sedentary rats were kept in their cages. After the trial was completed, the rats were euthanized and their brains were tested to see the results.
The tests revealed that the levels of dopamine — the neurotransmitter that dictates the brain’s sensory motions and decision making — in the exercise rats had been reduced. The researchers concluded that cardio causes changes in the pathways of the brain that could also lead to a reduction in needing substances.
Panayotis Thanos, a senior research specialist at RIA and the main author of the study, indicated that numerous studies have indicated that cardio is effective at preventing substance use disorders and relapses.
He stated that they intend to identify the underlying neurobiological mechanisms that affects the brain’s responses to cardio and to a person’s substance use disorder.
It is still early to determine if cardio can affect humans the same way it did the rats. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to dopamine levels falling, which, in turn, can lead to more drinking as people attempt to alter their mood.
Thanos added that continued studies on humans could help researchers acquire new ways of addiction treatment methods for people struggling with substance use disorders.
This development may be huge for Erie County, which has struggled with drug abuse.
According to the New York State Department of Health, there were 165 deaths due to opioid-related overdoses in Erie County in 2016 and 1,093 outpatient emergency-department visits due to opioid-related causes.
Buffalo has implemented other programs that assist people who need substance abuse treatment, including mobile units.
BestSelf Behavioral Health, a mental health and substance abuse treatment center, recently begun using mobile units which are equipped to provide opioid addiction treatment via webcam or in person. The company equips two vans, with each vehicle carrying three people – a nurse, a therapist and a peer-recovery specialist.
The mobile units travel throughout Erie and Niagara counties, going near emergency rooms, jails, bus stations and libraries, evaluating whether a person requires addiction treatment.