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(Wheel) Running Addictions Away

• December 28, 2009 • 1:30 PM

Here’s a thought for the New Year: Binge-drinking mice could help pave the way for exercise-oriented alcohol addiction treatments for humans.

Running can become compulsive — but can it help kick more destructive addictions?

For mice, at least, there’s hope for decreasing (obviously force-fed) amphetamine, cocaine and alcohol intake: wheel running.

In a new study, conducted by Marissa A. Ehringer at the University of Colorado, wheel running serves as a de facto treadmill for mice kicking an alcohol addiction.

The new study used a two-bottle testing model where mice were given unlimited access to water and ethanol (alcohol) diluted in tap water. Each of the 15-mL tubes was reversed daily to prevent the mice from developing a placement preference. The mice — who had a predilection for the sauce — were then subjected to three scenarios with these two bottles: sedentary (without access to a running wheel), access to a locked running wheel and access to a movable running wheel.

The results? Although female mice consumed significantly more alcohol than males, both genders drank less alcohol when a movable running wheel was provided, as opposed to the sedentary scenario. Mice, it appears, would rather run off the alcohol binge rather than wallow in their sorrows.

Curiously, male mice also drank less liquid in the presence of a locked running wheel. Researchers surmised that the mice might be using the structure as a “jungle gym” — meaning that the mice might have spent more time exercising (perhaps pull-ups?) and less time drinking in general. Alas, this theory was scuttled when the male mice were shown to have a similar rate of ethanol consumption as the females.

It seems that only meaningful exercise (wheel running) played a key component in reducing alcohol consumption in the male and female mice.

This research, which builds on previous studies that found that alcohol and amphetamine consumption in rodents decreased when they had access to running wheels, could be helpful in paving way for exercise-oriented alternative treatment plans for alcohol-addicted humans. Addiction can take many forms and sometimes it may be best to channel it into more productive avenues.

Holiday binge drinkers, good luck finding one of these.

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Erik Hayden
Former Miller-McCune Fellow Erik Hayden recently graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Religion. He regularly contributes for a variety of publications including the Ventura County Star and the alt-weekly, VCReporter.

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