Exercise as adjunctive treatment for alcohol use disorder

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aims: This study aimed to examine whether exercise as an adjunct to outpatient alcohol treatment influences alcohol consumption following participation in an exercise intervention of six months’ duration, and at 12 months after treatment initiation.

Design: A randomized controlled study.

Setting: Two Danish outpatient alcohol treatment centers.

Participants: 175 consecutive patients (68.6% male) participated.

Intervention: Patients allocated to (A) treatment as usual, (B) treatment as usual and supervised group exercise, (C) treatment as usual and individual physical exercise. Running and brisk walking were the types of exercise intervention.

Measurements: Timeline follow back (TLFB), Addiction severity Index (ASI), International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ), and Polar wearable heart rate monitors to register exercise activity.

Findings and conclusions: OR 0.99 [95% CI: 0.46; 2.14], p=0.976 for excessive drinking in the group exercise condition, and 1.02 [95% CI: 0.47; 2.18], p=0.968 in the individual exercise condition, which, when compared to the control group as reference, did not differ statistically significantly. Participants with moderate level physical activity had lower odds for excessive drinking OR = 0.12 [0.05; 0.31], p<0.001 than participants with low level physical activity. Amount of alcohol consumption in the intervention groups decreased by 4% [95% CI: 0.03; 6.8], p=0.015 for each increased exercising day.

No direct effect of physical exercise on drinking outcome was found. Moderate level physical activity was protective against excessive drinking following treatment. Implementing physically active lifestyles for patients in treatment for alcohol use disorder is needed.


Kirsten Kaya Roessler, Prof. Dr. Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense M, Denmark Randi Bilberg, PhD. Unit of Clinical Alcohol Research, Clinical Institute, University of Southern Denmark, Odense C, Denmark Anette Søgaa

Conflicts of interest:

No conflict of interest

Dr Sengul Sari