In a recently published online study in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers at the University of California Los Angeles found that adding exercise to methamphetamine abuse counseling led to an increase in dopamine receptors in the brain’s striatum region, which reduced meth cravings and made recovery easier.
The use of drugs like methamphetamine causes a rise in dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical that provides pleasure sensations and leads users to experience a high that can last about six hours. Over time, however, dopamine receptors are lost as users build a tolerance to the drug.
Dopamine receptors can recover if given the chance, but people who have used methamphetamine for extended periods may suffer from issues of self-control and poor judgment—which leads them to continue using.
“We know that deficits in the striatal dopamine system are hallmark features of substance-abuse disorders and are caused by molecular adaptations to repeated drug exposure and likely, also reflect a genetic predisposition,” said UCLA professor of psychiatry and molecular and medical pharmacology, Dr. Edythe London.
Dopamine & Methamphetamine Study Findings
Dr. London and fellow researchers studied 19 people in their methamphetamine project. Ten of the 19 were asked to exercise three times a week by jogging or walking on a treadmill for one hour and participating in a weight-training program. The other nine participants were asked not to exercise but did receive training in health education.
Before beginning their regimen and again after eight weeks, study participants underwent PET scans to evaluate changes in the number of dopamine receptors in the brain’s striatum. Receptor numbers were similar in all participants before the study began, but exercisers had 15 percent more receptors after research was complete. The non-exercisers’ dopamine receptors increased by only four percent.
“Although this is a small study, it’s a very encouraging finding,” London said in a UCLA press release. “The results demonstrate that methamphetamine-associated damages to the dopamine system of the brain are reversible in human subjects, and that recovery of the dopamine system after chronic drug use can be facilitated with exercise training.”
Additional research is required to find out how addiction specialists can best utilize this research with clients recovering from substance abuse, but the study indicates that fitness may have a positive effect on neuropsychiatric healing.
Begin Your Holistic Healing Journey
Clients recovering from a dual diagnosis or substance misuse problem can find nonjudgmental guidance at Coast to Coast Recovery. Call 800-210-8229 to learn more about holistic and 12-step options for methamphetamine treatment, alcohol recovery, and treatment for co-occurring disorders. Many of our programs help clients implement exercise and nutrition plans that combat cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and fill newly sober hours with a healthy activity. Learn more; submit a confidential inquiry now.