By Cathy Wilde
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Exercise can help prevent relapses into cocaine addiction, according to new research led by the University at Buffalo’s Panayotis (Peter) Thanos, PhD.
“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 Thanos, senior research scientist in the UB Research Institute on Addictions and the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Using animal models, Thanos found that regular aerobic exercise (one hour on a treadmill, five times a week) decreased stress-induced cocaine-seeking behavior. Exercise also altered behavioral and physiological responses to stress.
Individuals who are addicted to cocaine have altered neural, behavioral and physiological responses to stress. Recent research by Thanos 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.
In addition, exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones and elevate mood, which could assist in alleviating anxiety and negative emotions associated with withdrawal.
Studies already have shown that 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.
“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 study was funded by the N.Y. Research Foundation and appears in the online edition of Behavioural Brain Research. The article authors include Lisa S. Robison, PhD (a former graduate student of Thanos), of the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Albany Medical College, Luke Alessi, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Thanos.
RIA is a research center of the University at Buffalo and a national leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse issues. RIA’s research programs, most of which have multiple-year funding, are supported by federal, state and private foundation grants. Located on UB’s Downtown Campus, RIA is a member of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and a key contributor to UB’s reputation for research excellence. To learn more, visit buffalo.edu/ria.