Moderate exercise substantially reduces the rate of depression among early stage participants in methamphetamine treatment, recent research suggests. Methamphetamine is the stimulant medication/drug known for its ability to trigger addiction by profoundly altering the chemical balance inside the brain’s pleasure center. Among its many additional effects, the substance can produce serious, harmful mood alterations in long-term users. In a study published in December 2014 in The American Journal on Addictions, researchers from two American universities assessed the impact that regular exercise has on the depression risks of people receiving residential treatment for methamphetamine addiction/abuse. These researchers concluded that exercise participation can substantially reduce the odds of developing depression in the early stages of treatment.
Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction
Figures compiled for the year 2013 by researchers from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicate that roughly 595,000 Americans abuse methamphetamine. This is equivalent to approximately 0.2 percent of the total population of preteens, teenagers and adults. The rate of methamphetamine abuse did not change much between 2012 and 2013. While a small number of people obtain access to a legal methamphetamine-based medication, most individuals abuse an illegal form of the substance produced in an unregulated, unsanctioned laboratory. Methamphetamine belongs to the same chemical family as amphetamine, a stimulant found (among other places) in certain medications used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Like all stimulants, it speeds up the rate of cell communication inside the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and triggers euphoria inside the brain’s pleasure center. Methamphetamine produces a substantially greater degree of change inside the pleasure center than cocaine, a third well-known stimulant of abuse. Since lasting alteration in this brain area lays the foundation for the onset of physical dependence and addiction, methamphetamine has a noted ability to create dependence/addiction in habitual users.
Current Treatment Approaches
Treatment programs for methamphetamine abuse/addiction rely largely on psychotherapeutic approaches designed to produce real-world changes in daily behavior. These approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management. During cognitive behavioral therapy, clients/patients learn to understand, recognize and change actions that support an ongoing pattern of methamphetamine intake. Contingency management uses prizes or vouchers as incentives for behavior modification and adherence to the guidelines and goals of treatment. Doctors currently have no reliable medication option to help people receiving meth-related treatment in inpatient or outpatient facilities, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. However, a number of research teams are looking for such options, and several potentially fruitful avenues of investigation have emerged.
Usefulness of Exercise
In the study published in The American Journal on Addictions, researchers from Azusa Pacific University and UCLA used a small-scale study involving 135 adults to assess the effectiveness of regular exercise in helping early stage participants in methamphetamine treatment avoid developing depression or reduce current depression symptoms. All of these individuals were involved in residential treatment for meth dependence/addiction. Over the course of eight weeks, half of the study participants gained access to three, hourlong exercise sessions each week in addition to their normal course of treatment. The other half did not exercise; instead, they received access to health information during organized instructional sessions. After eight weeks, the researchers compared the depression symptoms of the group with the opportunity to exercise to the depression symptoms of the group that only received health-related information. They concluded that the program enrollees with access to exercise had significantly fewer symptoms than the program enrollees with no access to exercise. In addition, the researchers concluded that the enrollees who exercised relatively frequently over the course of eight weeks had significantly fewer depression symptoms than the enrollees who exercised relatively infrequently. Finally, they concluded that—in terms of addiction severity, depression severity and poor physical health—the enrollees with the greatest number of problems at the beginning of residential methamphetamine treatment benefited the most from exercise. The study’s authors characterize the level of exercise among the exercising participants as “moderate.” The authors especially emphasize the benefits of exercise for new arrivals affected by relatively severe addiction-related issues, depression-related issues, other mental health-related issues and/or physical issues at the beginning of the treatment process.