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Research and Projects

A systematic review of physical activity for alcohol and substance use disorders: evidence synthesis with stakeholder engagement to formulate practical recommendations

Who is involved?

Theme: CLAHRC - Healthy People, Healthy Environments
Status: Live


Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and substance use disorders (SUDs) have significant avoidable global human and economic cost. In the UK, AUDs and SUDs cost the economy £21bn (£3.5bn in healthcare) and £15bn (£488m in healthcare), respectively. Pharmacological interventions inherently have complications, and alternative therapies for treatment and prevention are needed. There is a growing interest in the possible role that physical activity (PA) may offer to reduce AUDs and SUDs with minimal or no adverse effects. Little is known about the best way PA can be promoted to both prevent and reduce AUDs and SUDs and NICE guidelines currently make minimal and vague reference to its role.

Project aims and objectives

To systematically review the evidence to date in order to describe and quantify the effects of PA on AUDs and SUDs and understand how it is best delivered or promoted, in what setting, and among which populations, to encourage the prevention, reduction, and abstinence from AUDs and SUDs. In the final phase of the study our aim is to elicit the views of service leads and users on how the findings can be used to guide future funding and interventions for reducing progression, use and post-treatment relapse.

Project activity

A wide selection of electronic databases will be searched based on a list of key words to generate a list of published research (including grey literature and qualitative investigations) which will then be screened independently by two researchers according to a predefined checklist. Eligible studies will be rated for quality and risk of bias, and data on study details, participant characteristics, AUD/SUD related factors, intervention details and setting, control conditions, and outcomes will be extracted by one researcher and checked by another. Data across similar studies will be synthesised in a meta-analysis. Moreover, we will provide a detailed narrative synthesis using tables, diagrams and narrative texts across the studies, interventions, outcomes, populations and settings.

Anticipated outputs

The proposed review will present the evidence to date on the role of PA in the prevention, harm reduction and treatment of AUDs and SUDs. After summarising this literature service leads and users will have the chance to reflect on and add further guidance on how PA interventions can be designed to have greatest reach and effectiveness. They will also add to recommendations on how support for PA can be offered within the NHS, and other public health services, and appropriate third sector and charity organisations, with implications for funding.

The review will examine the many aspects of PA in how it is delivered, to whom, by whom, and in what setting to present the potentially most effective services. It will provide information for those involved in the treatment and prevention of AUDs and SUDs as to the most effective and cost-effective applications of PA. It will also highlight potential research gaps to allow for future research planning within the NHS. The review will also be presented to the appropriate NICE Guidelines review panel with ideas on how the findings could be incorporated into future revisions of guidance on effective interventions. Should there be a need for further research on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of PA interventions for specific groups then we will present the findings to the appropriate NIHR prioritisation panel, and other funders (e.g., National Lottery awards). Find out more on the Plymouth University project page. 

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