Health & Lifestyle

A pilot study of aerobic exercise as an adjunctive treatment for drug dependence

Intervention to increase exercise in drug dependent patients represents a potentially useful yet unexplored strategy for preventing relapse. However, there are currently no established exercise interventions for use with this population. The purpose
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  A Pilot Study of Aerobic Exercise as an Adjunctive Treatment forDrug Dependence Richard A. Brown, Ph.D. *,Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Butler Hospital Ana M. Abrantes, Ph.D. ,Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Butler Hospital Jennifer P. Read, Ph.D. ,University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Bess H. Marcus, Ph.D. ,Program in Public Health, Brown University John Jakicic, Ph.D. ,University of Pittsburgh David R. Strong, Ph.D. ,Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Butler Hospital Julie R. Oakley, M.S. ,The Westerly Hospital, Westerly, Rhode Island Susan E. Ramsey, Ph.D. ,Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital Christopher W. Kahler, Ph.D. ,Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University Gregory G. Stuart, Ph.D. ,Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Butler Hospital Mary Ella Dubreuil , andButler Hospital Alan A. Gordon, M.D. Butler Hospital Abstract Intervention to increase exercise in drug dependent patients represents a potentially useful yetunexplored strategy for preventing relapse. However, there are currently no established exerciseinterventions for use with this population. The purpose of this pilot study was to examine thefeasibility of aerobic exercise as an adjunct to substance abuse treatment among drug dependentpatients. Participants included 16 (31% female, 38.3 years old) drug dependent patients who * CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Richard A. Brown, Ph.D., Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Butler Hospital, 345 BlackstoneBlvd., Providence, R.I. 02906. Publisher's Disclaimer: This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customerswe are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resultingproof before it is published in its final citable form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which couldaffect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain. NIH Public Access Author Manuscript  Ment Health Phys Act  . Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 June 1. Published in final edited form as:  Ment Health Phys Act  . 2010 June 1; 3(1): 2734. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2010.03.001. N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t    participated in a 12-week, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise intervention. Participants attended amean of 8.6 sessions (out of 12). Participants demonstrated a significant increase in percent daysabstinent for both alcohol and drugs at the end of treatment, and those who attended at least 75% of the exercise sessions had significantly better substance use outcomes than those who did not. Inaddition, participants showed a significant increase in their cardiorespiratory fitness by the end of treatment. While preliminary, this study is one of the first to demonstrate the feasibility of incorporating aerobic exercise during drug abuse treatment. Future randomized control trials are anecessary next step to test the efficacy of a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise intervention as anadjunct to drug abuse treatment in this patient population. Keywords Exercise; Drug Dependence; Substance Abuse Treatment; Physical Activity INTRODUCTION Drug dependence is a major public health problem (McCrady & Epstein, 1999; Rotgers, Keller,& Morgenstern, 1996) and the associated costs of drug use disorders to society are considerable(Andlin-Sobocki, 2004; Langenbucker, McCrady, Brick, & Esterly, 1993; ONDCP, 2004).Results from the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions(NESARC) point toward high rates of substance use disorders (SUD) with 9.5% of thepopulation meeting DSM-IV criteria for any SUD and 4.07% meeting criteria for any substancedependence within the last 12 months (Grant et al., 2004). Epidemiological data from 27community studies in European countries reveal a 12-month prevalence rate for any substancedependence of 3.4% of the adult population (Wittchen & Jacobi, 2005). Spontaneous remissionrates from drug diagnoses are very low (Finney, Moos, & Timko, 1999). Relapse represents amajor problem in substance use disorders, with relapse rates in the first year following treatmentranging from 60 – 90% (Brownell, Marlatt, Lichtenstein, & Wilson, 1986; Hunt, Barnett, &Branch, 1971; Xie, McHugo, Fox, & Drake, 2005). Therefore, it is crucial that accessible,affordable and efficacious primary and adjunctive drug dependence treatments be developedto address this chronic, relapsing condition.The role of increasing lifestyle balance has been incorporated in existing relapse preventionmodels (Marlatt & Witkiewitz, 2005; Witkiewitz & Marlatt, 2004). Indeed, in his chapter on“Lifestyle Modification,” Marlatt cites exercise as “a highly recommended lifestyle changeactivity” (Marlatt, 1985, p. 309) and discusses the advantages of physical activity as a relapseprevention strategy. Other writers have agreed that lifestyle-enhancing factors such as exerciseand fitness may play an important role in the prevention and treatment of addictive disorders(Brown, et al., 2009; Tkachuk & Martin, 1999). Larimer and colleagues (Larimer, Palmer, &Marlatt, 1999) describe the importance of helping the client develop “positive addictions” suchas increased physical activity and meditation. Although lifestyle modification was one of themain components in Marlatt’s relapse prevention model [see Marlatt & Donovan (2005) formore details], the treatment outcome literature suggests that this component has received theleast emphasis in relapse prevention programs for drug dependence. Despite this lack of attention in the empirical literature, methods that attempt to foster healthy lifestyle changesmay contribute to long-term maintenance of recovery, and interventions targeting physicalactivity in particular, may be especially valuable as an adjunct to substance abuse treatment.Exercise may benefit drug dependent patients attempting recovery from substance problemsthrough a number of different mechanisms of action. First, engaging in exercise may offer drugdependent patients the ability to experience positive mood states without the use of drugs. Forexample, due to the potential for reductions in dopamine production and dopamine receptors Brown et al.Page 2  Ment Health Phys Act  . Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 June 1. N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t    availability, drug dependent patients may have an impaired capacity to experience pleasureduring early recovery (Adinoff, 2004; Bressan & Crippa, 2005). On the other hand, exercisehas been shown to result in acute improvements in positive-activated affect (e.g., (Reed &Ones, 2006) and alleviate mood disturbance and withdrawal symptoms in women attemptingto quit smoking (e.g., Bock, Marcus, King, Borrelli, & Roberts, 1999). These positivereinforcing properties may be mediated in part by exercise effects on the endogenous opioidsystem and potentiation of dopaminergic systems linked importantly to the experience of enhanced mood and experienced pleasure (c.f., (Meeusen, 2005), although the application of neuroscience techniques to exercise psychology is complex and will require strong researchdesigns (Dishman & O’Connor, 2009). Second, studies in recent years have found anassociation between depressive symptomatology and poor treatment outcome among patientswith substance use disorders (R. A. Brown, et al., 1998; Nunes & Levin, 2004; Ouimette, Gima,Moos, & Finney, 1999; Poling, Kosten, & Sofuoglu, 2007). Engaging in exercise has beenconsistently associated with reductions in depressive symptoms (Craft & Landers, 1998; Dunn,Trivedi, & O’Neal, 2001; Lawlor & Hopker, 2001; Mead, et al., 2009) and thus exercise mayreduce risk for relapse by reducing depressive symptoms. Third, exercise has been found toalleviate sleep disturbances (Youngstedt, 2005) and improve cognitive functioning (Kramer& Erickson, 2007) – both of which have been identified as disrupted in early drug recoveryand predictive of relapse (Drummond, Gillin, Smith, & DeModena, 1998; Ersche & Sahakian,2007; Gruber, Silveri, & Yurgelun-Todd, 2007; Jovanovski, Erb, & Zakzanis, 2005; Liu,Xiaoping, Wei, & Zeng, 2000; Rogers & Robbins, 2001; Scott, et al., 2007). Lastly, increasesin self-efficacy (McAuley, Courneya, & Lettunich, 1991) and decreases in stress-reactivity(Hobson & Rejeski, 1993; Keller, 1980) associated with exercise engagement may alsocontribute to lower the risk of relapse among drug dependent patients. Among problemdrinkers, exercise led to psychological improvement in physical self-worth and physical self-perceptions of condition and strength (Donaghy & Mutrie, 1998). Exercise has been proposedas an effective relapse prevention intervention specifically due to the potential number of positive physiological and psychological benefits. Improved mood, regulated reward systems,reduced depressive symptoms, improved sleep and cognitive function all may serve to reducerisk for relapse and efforts to illuminate mechanisms of effectiveness will be an important focusof future work in this area.Thus far, few studies have examined the efficacy of aerobic exercise as adjunct to substanceabuse treatment. Among addictive disorders, nicotine dependence has received the mostattention with respect to the role of physical activity. Recent studies have demonstrated theacute effects of exercise on decreased craving and nicotine withdrawal (see Taylor, Ussher, &Faulkner, 2007) and as a means of facilitating smoking cessation (Marcus, et al., 1999; Marcus,et al., 2005; Prapavessis, et al., 2007) have been demonstrated.The role of exercise as an adjunct to alcohol treatment has been explored by Sinyor andcolleagues (Sinyor, Brown, Rostant, & Seraganian, 1982) who reported on 58 participantsreceiving inpatient alcohol rehabilitation treatment. Participants engaged in six weeks of “tailored” exercise, consisting of progressively more rigorous physical exercise includingstretching, calisthenics and walking/running. Results revealed that these participantsdemonstrated better abstinence outcomes post-treatment than did non-exercising participantsfrom two other small comparison groups. In addition, in a previous study, we developed andpilot tested a 12-week moderate-intensity aerobic exercise intervention for alcohol dependentpatients (Brown et al., 2009). Results from this study suggest that, compared to the meanpretreatment percent days abstinent (PDA), significant increases in PDA were observed at theend of the 12-week exercise intervention and at the 3-month post-intervention follow-up.Similar to alcohol treatment, there exists a lack of studies examining the role of exercise duringdrug abuse treatment (Donaghy & Ussher, 2005). In one small, uncontrolled pilot study of an Brown et al.Page 3  Ment Health Phys Act  . Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 June 1. N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t    exercise intervention conducted with substance abusing offenders in outpatient treatment,(Williams, 2000) conducted a 12-week intervention consisting of once weekly strength traininggroups plus recommendations for aerobic exercise during the rest of the week. While substanceabuse outcomes were not presented in the results, the authors reported that the 11 out of 20participants who completed the intervention reported that exercise was helpful in maintainingabstinence. In addition, exercise interventions have been applied with adolescent substanceabusers. Collingwood and colleagues (Collingwood, Reynolds, Kohl, Smith, & Sloan, 1991)conducted a clinical trial of an 8–9 week structured fitness program with adolescent substanceabusers. Adolescent participants showed improved physical fitness, reduced polysubstanceuse, and increased abstinence rates. Overall, there exists a lack of available studies attemptingto evaluate the potential of exercise to benefit adults in treatment for drug use disorders.Stronger studies are needed to establish that exercise interventions should be more broadlyimplemented in practice.The purpose of this study was to pilot test a 12-week moderate-intensity aerobic exerciseintervention as an adjunct to treatment for drug dependent outpatients, as a preliminary step ina program of research. In this study, we examine the feasibility and exercise adherence amongdrug dependent patients. In addition, we examine drug use and cardiorespiratory fitnessoutcomes at the end of the 12-week intervention and at the 3-month follow-up. METHOD Participants Participants were recruited from an intensive alcohol and drug treatment partial-hospitalizationprogram at a psychiatric hospital in the Northeast USA as well as through study advertisementsin the local newspaper. Eligible participants: (a) were between 18 and 65 years of age, (b) metcurrent DSM-IV criteria for drug dependence as assessed by the Structured DiagnosticInterview for DSM-IV (SCID-P), (c) were sedentary; i.e., have not participated regularly inaerobic physical exercise (for at least 20 minutes per day, three days per week) for the past sixmonths, and (d) were currently engaged in outpatient substance abuse treatment.Exclusion criteria included: (a) anorexia or bulimia nervosa, (b) bipolar disorder, (c) a historyof psychotic disorder or current psychotic symptoms, (d) current suicidality or homicidality,(e) marked organic impairment, (f) physical disabilities or medical problems or use of medications that would prevent or hinder participation in a program of moderate-intensityexercise, and (g) current pregnancy or intent to become pregnant during the next 12 weeks.From the alcohol and drug partial hospital treatment program, 208 charts of patients with drugdependence were screened. In addition, 108 calls were received in response to newspaperadvertisements for the research study. Of these 316 potential participants, rule outs included:58 (18%) for a medical problem that would prohibit safely participating in exercise, 35 (11%)were not sedentary, 40 (13%) refused participation in the study (applicable only to patientsfrom the partial hospital treatment program), 37 (12%) for one of the psychiatric exclusioncriteria, and 47 (15%) were not involved in ongoing substance abuse treatment or were in amethadone maintenance program (applicable only to those calling in response to the newspaperadvertisement). In addition, during the recruitment process, 64 (20%) of potential participantseither expressed loss of interest in the study, dropped out of addiction treatment, were unableto attend group nights, or we lost contact with them.As a result, the remaining 35 participants were scheduled for baseline assessments. Of these,6 were excluded because of a SCID-diagnosed psychiatric rule out and 10 decided to no longerparticipate during the baseline assessment phase. Therefore, 19 participants were eligible toparticipate in the 12-week aerobic exercise intervention. Of these, 3 participants did not attend Brown et al.Page 4  Ment Health Phys Act  . Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 June 1. N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t    the intervention and were not able to be contacted further. Thus, the study sample wascomprised of 16 participants who initiated the exercise intervention.The sample of 16 participants included 11 (69%) males and 5 (31%) females. The mean ageof participants was 38.3 ( SD =  10.1) years. The sample was primarily Caucasian (13 of 16;81.3%) with a minority of African-American (13%) and Hispanic (6%) individuals.Participants had an average of 12.5 ( SD  = 1.4) years of education. Seven participants (43.8%)were married, 6 (37.5%) were never married, and 3 (18.7%) were either divorced or separated.In addition, nine participants (56.2%) were employed full-time, while 4 (25%) were workingpart-time and three (18.6%) were currently unemployed. All participants were engaged inongoing substance abuse treatment for drug dependence. In the 3 months prior to beginningthe intervention, 81.3% reported using alcohol, 31.3% used cocaine, 31.3% used marijuana,12.5% used opiates, and 6.3% reported sedative use. In the one month prior to the intervention,63.7% of participants used two or more substances. In our clinical experience, it is commonfor drug dependent patients to also drink alcohol and to believe they can continue to drink whileremaining abstinent from drugs.Accordingly, while alcohol use was common in the sample, all participants were recruited if they met criteria for a current (i.e., in the last year per DSM-IV) drug dependence diagnosisand were engaged in substance abuse treatment irrespective of when the addiction treatmentbegan. Therefore, participants began the exercise intervention with varying degrees of addiction treatment engagement. However, in the 3 months prior to study recruitment, mostparticipants were engaged in both substance abuse and mental health treatment. Addictionfocused treatment included: inpatient (31%), partial hospital day program (75%), individualsessions with a psychiatrist (37.5%), individual sessions with a counselor (50%), group therapy(25%). In addition, 56% of the sample had attended 12-step meetings in the last 3 months.Mental health treatment included: individual sessions with a psychiatrist (50%) and counselor(31.2%).In addition, participants continued to engage in concurrent substance abuse and mental healthtreatment during the 12-week exercise intervention. Addiction focused treatment included:inpatient (7.1%), partial hospital day program (14.3%), individual sessions with a psychiatrist(30.8%), individual sessions with a counselor (60%), group therapy (28.6%). In addition,71.4% of the sample had attended 12-step meetings during the 3-month intervention. Mentalhealth treatment included: partial hospital day program (7%), individual sessions with apsychiatrist (28.6%), individual sessions with a counselor (40%), and group therapy (7%). Exercise Intervention There are three components to the exercise intervention: 1) moderate-intensity aerobicexercise, 2) group behavioral training component, and 3) an incentive system. The exerciseintervention was also tested with a sample of alcohol dependent patients and has been publishedelsewhere (R.A. Brown, et al., 2009). We refer readers to this publication for detaileddescriptions of each exercise component. Aerobic Exercise Component of the Exercise Intervention— Participants attendedsupervised (by an exercise physiologist) aerobic exercise group sessions once a week (for 12weeks) at the study fitness facility. At each exercise intervention session, the exercisephysiologist guided participants on the intensity and duration of the exercise to be performed.Exercise sessions began at 20 minutes per session and gradually progressed to 40 minutes persession by week 12. Participants exercised at a rate that achieved 55 – 69% (moderate-intensity)of age-predicted maximal heart rate. This exercise regimen is consistent with the guidelinesoffered by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM; (American College of SportsMedicine, 2000). Heart rate and blood pressure were monitored before, during, and after Brown et al.Page 5  Ment Health Phys Act  . Author manuscript; available in PMC 2011 June 1. N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  N I  H -P A A  u t  h  or M an u s  c r i   p t  

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