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Alcohol and substance use results in significant human and economic cost globally and is associated with economic costs of £21 billion and £15billion within the UK, respectively, and trends for use are not improving. Pharmacological interventions are well researched, but relapse rates across interventions for substance and alcohol use disorders are as high as 60–90%. Physical activity may offer an alternative or adjunct approach to reducing rates of alcohol and substance use that is associated with few adverse side effects, is easily accessible, and is potentially cost-effective. Through psychological, behavioural, and physiological mechanisms, physical activity may offer benefits in the prevention, reduction, and treatment of alcohol and substance use across the lifespan. Whilst physical activity is widely advocated as offering benefit, no systematic review exists of physical activity (in all forms) and its effects on all levels of alcohol and substance use across all ages to help inform policymakers, service providers, and commissioners.
The objectives of this mixed methods systematic review are to describe and evaluate the quantitative and qualitative research obtained by a diverse search strategy on the impact of physical activity and its potential to:
Reduce the risk of progression to alcohol and/or substance use (PREVENTION)
Support individuals to reduce alcohol and/or substance use for harm reduction (REDUCTION), and
Promote abstinence and relapse prevention during and after treatment for an alcohol and/or substance use disorder (TREATMENT).
With the input of key stakeholders, we aim to assess how what we know can be translated into policy and practice. Quantitative, qualitative, service evaluations, and economic analyses will be brought together in a final narrative synthesis that will describe the potential benefits of physical activity for whom, in what conditions, and in what form.
This review will provide details of what is known about physical activity and the prevention, reduction, and treatment of alcohol and/or substance use. The synthesised findings will be disseminated to policymakers, service providers, and commissioners in the UK.
Systematic review registration
PROSPERO number: CRD42017079322.