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Exercise May Combat Alcohol Cravings, Animal Study Suggests

Hamster research indicates workouts stimulate same brain reward pathways as booze

TUESDAY, June 22 (HealthDay News) -- Exercise may turn out to be an effective treatment option for alcoholism, a new animal study suggests.

Alcoholism disrupts normal daily circadian rhythms (such as when to sleep and eat), which leads to disrupted sleep patterns. As a result, alcoholics may begin to drink even more in an attempt to fall asleep easier. But this often leads to more sleep problems and an even greater craving for alcohol.

For this study, researchers tested the effect that exercise (in the form of wheel-running) had on hamsters' alcohol intake. The findings appear online and in the September print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"In this study, we found that the more the hamsters ran, the less they consumed alcohol. The 'lazier' hamsters that did not run as much had a greater craving for and consumption of alcohol, suggesting that exercise may be an effective, beneficial, and non-pharmacologic treatment option for alcoholism," corresponding author J. David Glass, a professor of biological sciences at Kent State University, said in a journal news release.

Exercise seems to reduce alcohol consumption by stimulating brain reward pathways in a manner similar to alcohol.

"Dopamine is the primary chemical released within the brain in response to any type of reward, including exercise, drugs, food, and sex," Glass said. "For humans, exercise may be an effective, beneficial and naturally rewarding substitute for any type of addiction. It may also reduce the risk of addiction in individuals who have a family history of it, in addition to significantly reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and mood disorders. But like all rewards, exercise should be used in moderation, and not interfere with an individual's normal daily functioning."

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about alcoholism and treatment.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, June 21, 2010, news release.

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