Rewiring the Addicted Brain Through a Psychobiological Model of Physical Exercise

Front Psychiatry. 2019 Aug 27:10:600. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00600. eCollection 2019.


Drug addiction is a worldwide public health problem, resulting from multiple phenomena, including those both social and biological. Chronic use of psychoactive substances has been shown to induce structural and functional changes in the brain that impair cognitive control and favor compulsive seeking behavior. Physical exercise has been proven to improve brain function and cognition in both healthy and clinical populations. While some studies have demonstrated the potential benefits of physical exercise in treating and preventing addictive behaviors, few studies have investigated its cognitive and neurobiological contributions to drug-addicted brains. Here, we review studies in humans using cognitive behavioral responses and neuroimaging techniques, which reveal that exercise can be an effective auxiliary treatment for drug addictive disorders. Moreover, we describe the neurobiological mechanisms by which exercise-induced neuroplasticity in the prefrontal cortex improves executive functions and may decrease compulsive behaviors in individuals prone to substance use disorders. Finally, we propose an integrative cognitive-psychobiological model of exercise for use in future research in drug addiction and practical guidance in clinical settings.

Keywords: addiction; aerobic exercise; alcohol abuse; neuralplasticity; substance use disorder.

Publication types

  • Review