Aerobic exercise may prevent cocaine relapse

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Exercise can help prevent relapses into cocaine addiction, researchers report.

“Cocaine addiction is often characterized by cycles of recovery and relapse, with stress and negative emotions, often caused by withdrawal itself, among the major causes of relapse,” says Panayotis (Peter) Thanos, senior research scientist in the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions and the pharmacology and toxicology department in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

A study with animal models shows that regular aerobic exercise (one hour on a treadmill, five times a week) decreases stress-induced cocaine-seeking behavior. Exercise also alters behavioral and physiological responses to stress, according to the study.

Individuals addicted to cocaine have altered neural, behavioral, and physiological responses to stress, Thanos says. Recent research demonstrated how exercise can alter the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which is linked to the rewarding and reinforcing properties of drugs such as cocaine.

Further, exercise reduces stress hormones and elevates mood, which could help alleviate anxiety and negative emotions associated with withdrawal, according to previous studies.

Aerobic exercise (also known as “cardio”) is an effective strategy against many physical health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, along with certain mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

How stress can cause a cocaine relapse

“Our results suggest that regular aerobic exercise could be a useful strategy for relapse prevention, as part of a comprehensive treatment program for recovering cocaine abusers,” Thanos says. “Further research is necessary to see if these results also hold true for other addictive drugs.”

The NY Research Foundation funded the study, which appears in Behavioural Brain Research. Additional coauthors are from Albany Medical College and the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Source: University at Buffalo