3 Ways Exercise Combats Teenage Drug Abuse and Teen Depression

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By Jamison Monroe

We all know that exercise is good for you. But did you know that it can also help fight teenage drug abuse, addiction, and teen depression? Research shows that regular exercise can help people get off drugs and alcohol and combat depression. Furthermore, it helps people stay in recovery. As a result, scientists are looking closely at the neurobiological underpinnings of this discovery. They are also examining its ramifications for teen mental health treatment. Hence, what they do know is that it works—on multiple levels.

It Provides a Healthy Reward for the Brain

Addictive drugs stimulate the brain’s reward system through a surge of the pleasure hormone dopamine. Consequently, finding healthy ways to increase dopamine is key to successful recovery. Therefore, this is especially true in the early days when withdrawal cravings are intense. In addition, evidence shows that exercise can be used as an alternative reward for the body and brain. As a result, this can make it easier to stay clean.

Most of the research on the relationship between exercise, dopamine, and addiction has been done on lab rats. For example, in one study, rats that ran on a wheel frequently were less prone to ingest cocaine. Yet, another group of rats whose dopamine receptors were activated with chemical injections were much less inclined to run, since their pleasure centers were already being stimulated. Furthermore, a study with mice showed that running also produces a chemical that activates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors—the receptors that respond to marijuana. In other words, the “runner’s high” is real.

It Addresses the Underlying Factors of Teenage Drug Abuse

Exercise combats addiction. It addresses two of the major motivators for substance and alcohol abuse: teen depression and teen anxiety. Furthermore, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, those addicted to drugs are twice as likely to struggle with mood and anxiety disorders, compared to the general population.

Most of all, regular exercise makes a significant difference. In a study of a dozen young adults at the University of Newcastle in Australia, participants with major depressive disorder exercised regularly—three times a week with a trainer and on their own the other days. As a result, after 12 weeks of exercise, 10 of the participants were no longer categorized as depressed. Multiple studies have confirmed these results. Therefore, exercise improves well-being and positive outlook by impacting serotonin levels. In addition, it can even be as effective as antidepressants. Hence, the findings prove the power of exercise.

Watch Mickey, Alumni of Newport Academy, share his story. Mickey struggled with teen depression and substance abuse, and exercise helped to improve his mental health:

It Cultivates Mindfulness and Reduces Stress

The Mayo Clinic has described exercise as “meditation in motion,” suggesting a whole range of benefits. Mindfulness practice helps us move away from repetitive, wandering thoughts. In addition, it actually changes the brain in healthy ways. Furthermore, research shows that practicing mindfulness can improve impulse control, decision-making, and self-care. Hence, these are all factors involved in recovery.

One of the most effective ways to combine exercise and mindfulness is the practice of yoga. Especially relevant, research shows yoga helps to calm the nervous system and reduce stress and tension. Furthermore, both yoga and moderate exercise improve heart rate variability. Therefore, an indicator of stress resilience.

Most noteworthy, as scientists continue to study this connection, we’ll learn how to maximize the positive impact. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investing in this research with two studies launched this year. Consequently, in one study, the 50 women in recovery from alcohol addiction were given Fitbits to use over a 12-week time period. In addition, in the other study, the NIH created a smartphone app aimed at encouraging women in recovery to exercise more.

Therefore, in conclusion, for those of us who have beaten addiction, there’s a lot of evidence to keep us exercising! Consequently, we need to take it one day at a time, one step at time.

Jamison Monroe Jr. is the Founder and CEO of Newport Academy.

Sources:

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Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008 Nov 1;98(1-2):129-35.

Curr Neuropharmacol. 2011 Mar; 9(1): 45–48. 

Behav Brain Res. 2014 Mar 15;261:71-8

NIDA: Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Oct 20;112(42):13105-8.

Neuroscience. 2016 Dec 17;339:525-537.