A recent study conducted by U.C.L.A. has confirmed the link between exercise and overcoming addition. The specific conclusion of the study was that exercise contributes to the regrowth of dopamine receptors in the brains of people recovering from addiction to crystal meth. After reading the full study, I was very excited to learn that the positive results also have a broad application to folks who have a history of abusing alcohol and other drugs and wanted to share it with you right away. Check out the UCLA article here.
The Control Group
For eight weeks, ten people were given an exercise routine that combined both cardiovascular and weight training. The ten people walked or jogged on a treadmill three times a week for one hour and then engaged in weight training. The weight training combined machines and free weights. A second group of nine people were exposed to health education for the same eight weeks. All of the subjects had a PET scan at the outset and conclusion of the study.
The results were unequivocal: The ten that exercised regularly had an average increase of 15% in the number of dopamine receptors. The nine that did not saw an increase of just 4%.
But Wait, It Get’s Better
But that was not all. Exercise appeared to affect other components of the striatum, the part of the brain that releases dopamine. The striatum has different regions that are related to different brain and body functions. Among the ten participants who exercised, the average increase in the numbers of receptors in the associative region (responsible for memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought and consciousness) was 16%, in the sensory motor region 16% and in the limbic region (responsible for emotions and memory) 8%. By contrast, the group that did not exercise showed increases averaging only 5% in the limbic region, and 4% in both the associative and sensory-motor regions of the striatum.
The study focused on methamphetamine, an addictive drug that causes the brain to release a spike of dopamine. However, because many different drugs mimic the effects of methamphetamine in the brain (albeit most not as severely), the results are applicable to people in recovery from a variety of drugs and alcohol.
A methamphetamine high can last up to 6 hours. Dopamine allows cells to communicate, but it also has a role in responding to external stimuli—including drugs—providing sensations of pleasure and satisfaction. Repeated use of meth causes the dopamine system to suppress production and reduces the number of dopamine receptors.
Why Should You Care?
The study proves that brain receptors can recover over time, even more so if you incorporate exercise and healthy nutrition into your recovery. The only caveat is that the rate at which the brain receptors recover varies widely. That shouldn’t matter to you: The fact is that they do recover. Lastly, we must be patient, as it will take at least six to eight months to restore brain function to what is considered normal levels.
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