Clinical exercise interventions in alcohol use disorders: a systematic review

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2015 May;52:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2014.12.001. Epub 2014 Dec 16.


The therapeutic impact of exercise interventions in psychiatric diseases such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia has already been proven through several reviews whereas substance use disorders such as alcohol use disorders (AUD) have so far less frequently been a matter of investigation. Although several publications have summarized studies focusing on physical activities in substance use disorders, no systematic review exists summarizing the evidence of exercise interventions in AUD. A total of 14 studies using the Medline Database, CCMed, Cochrane Library and PsychINFO were identified and met the inclusion criteria. In order to evaluate the evidence, we used the evaluation system of the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (2011). Due to methodological flaws the overall evidence of the studies is rated level "3" but primarily findings confirm that exercise interventions as a complementary treatment component in AUD are feasible and safe. No adverse events were reported. This systematic review indicates that exercise may have beneficial effects on certain domains of physical functioning including VO2max, basal heart rate, physical activity level and strength. Inconsistent effects with a slight trend towards a positive effect on anxiety, mood management, craving, and drinking behavior have been shown and need to be verified. Results must be interpreted cautiously due to the numerous methodological flaws and the heterogeneity of the interventions and measures. However, according to preclinical studies several mechanisms of action are conceivable, especially as to alcohol-related outcomes and additionally seem to be promising. RCTs with high methodological quality are urgently needed in future research to establish evidence-based exercise recommendations for the treatment of AUD.

Keywords: Alcohol dependence; Alcohol use disorder; Exercise; Exercise therapy; Lifestyle modification; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome