Current Addiction Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 455–466 | Cite as

Exercise as a Prevention for Substance Use Disorder: a Review of Sex Differences and Neurobiological Mechanisms

  • Wendy J. Lynch
  • Andrea M. Robinson
  • Jean Abel
  • Mark A. Smith
Women and Addictions (CM Mazure and Y Zakiniaeiz, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Women and Addictions


Purpose of Review

This report provides an update on clinical and preclinical findings for the efficacy of exercise to prevent substance use disorder with a focus on recent evidence for sex differences and neurobiological mechanisms.

Recent Findings

Exercise/physical activity is associated with decreased drug use in humans. Preclinical results further indicate that exercise decreases vulnerability to drug use and the development of features of substance use disorder, and suggest that females have an enhanced sensitivity to its reward-substitution effects. However, certain exercise conditions may sensitize the reward pathway and enhance vulnerability suggesting that parallel observations in humans (e.g., increased prescription opioid misuse and heroin use in high-school athletes) may be biologically based.


Exercise is a promising prevention strategy for substance use disorder. Further work is needed to establish its efficacy as a sex-specific strategy using larger samples and to understand the exercise conditions that induce beneficial versus risk-enhancing effects.


Acquisition Addiction Animal models Biological mechanisms Clinical Drug use initiation Drug use escalation Exercise Gender differences Gonadal hormones Intervention Physical activity Preclinical Prevention Sex differences Sex-specific Substance use disorder 


Funding Information

Wendy J Lynch is supported by grants from National Institute on Drug Abuse (grants no. R01DA024716 and R01DA039093). Mark A. Smith is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (grant no. DA031725).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wendy J. Lynch
    • 1
  • Andrea M. Robinson
    • 2
  • Jean Abel
    • 1
  • Mark A. Smith
    • 2
  1. 1.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Davidson CollegeDavidsonUSA

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