Effects of acute exercise on craving, mood and anxiety in non-treatment seeking adults with alcohol use disorder: An exploratory study

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2021 Mar 1:220:108506. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2021.108506. Epub 2021 Jan 8.


Background: Exercise is increasingly being used in the treatment of alcohol use disorder (AUD). We examined the short-term effects of acute exercise on alcohol craving, mood states and state anxiety in physically inactive, non-treatment seeking adults with AUD.

Methods: Exploratory, single-arm study. In total, 140 adults with AUD (53.7 ± 11.8 years; 70 % female) were included in a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to study effects of physical activity on alcohol consumption. This acute exercise study was nested within the larger RCT. The intervention was a 12-minute sub-maximal fitness test performed on a cycle ergometer. Participants self-rated their desire for alcohol (DAQ) and completed mood (POMS-Brief) and state anxiety (STAI-Y1) questionnaires 30-minutes before exercise, immediately before, immediately after, and 30-minutes post. Ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were collected. Effects of exercise were assessed using RM-ANOVA and dependent sample t-tests with effect sizes (Hedges g).

Results: In total, 70.6 % had mild or moderate AUD (DSM-5 criteria = 4.9 ± 2). The intervention was generally perceived as 'strenuous' (RPE = 16.1 ± 1.6). In the total sample, there was a main effect of time with reductions in alcohol craving [F(3,411) = 27.33, p < 0.001], mood disturbance [F(3,411) = 53.44, p < 0.001], and state anxiety [F(3,411) = 3.83, p = 0.013]. Between-group analyses indicated larger magnitude effects in those with severe compared to mild AUD, however, AUD severity did not significantly moderate the within-group improvements: group x time interaction for alcohol craving [F(6,411) = 1.21, p = 0.305]. Positive effects of exercise were maintained 30-minutes post-exercise.

Conclusion: A short bout of aerobic exercise reduced alcohol craving and improved mood states in adults with AUD.

Keywords: Alcohol consumption; Anxiety; Craving; Exercise; Mood; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Craving*
  • Exercise Therapy / psychology
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / therapy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult