Can Exercise Prevent Cocaine Relapse?

By Bryan Le 08/13/18

Researchers used animals to model the effects of exercise on addictive behaviors for a new study.

Cardio workout in gym by woman on bike
Ride away from relapse.

According to researchers, the possibility of a cocaine relapse can be reduced with exercise.

The discovery comes thanks to research at the University of Buffalo led by Panyotis Thanos.

"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," said senior scientist Thanos.

In the study, Thanos and his team used animals to model the effects of exercise on addictive behaviors.

To this end, he and his team observed that test subjects who did regular aerobic exercise (one hour on a treadmill five times a week) were less likely to exhibit “stress-induced cocaine-seeking behaviors.” Not only were they more likely to be drug-free, they also changed the way they responded to stress, both behaviorally and physiologically.

Cocaine addiction causes these behavioral and physiological shifts in response to stress. Thanos’ research found that physical exercise can change the mesolimbic dopamine pathways in the brain. These pathways are the same ones that cocaine acts on, creating the rewarding feeling that makes cocaine so addictive.

Exercise can also help boost mood and cut down on the hormones responsible for stress, which could keep those mental formations that tempt relapse at bay.

There are also the other known benefits to aerobic exercise, including the prevention of heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, that make regular aerobic exercise worthwhile.

“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,” explained Thanos. “Further research is necessary to see if these results also hold true for other addictive drugs.”

The use of exercise has helped at least one person: country superstar Tim McGraw. He previously used alcohol to help with pre-show jitters, but in his recovery, replaced that with a long run instead.

“The ritual now is to run,” McGraw explained. “Me and a few of the guys in the band—I do my meet and greet and right after the meet and greet, we take off and run for 4 or 5 miles. It is literally timed so I run straight into the dressing room, get ready and hit the stage.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter