Peter Thanos

Newly published research led by Panayotis (Peter) K. Thanos, PhD, shows that exercise can help prevent relapse into cocaine addiction.

Study: Exercise Helps Prevent Cocaine Addiction Relapse

Published August 29, 2018

New research led by Panayotis (Peter) K. Thanos, PhD, a senior research scientist specializing in behavioral neuropharmacology at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions and the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, shows that exercise can help prevent relapse into cocaine addiction.

“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.”
Panayotis (Peter) K. Thanos, PhD
Senior research scientist at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions

Study Shows How Aerobic Exercise Alters Brain

“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 and research professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and senior author on the study.

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.

The research was published in the online edition of the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

Individuals who are addicted to cocaine have altered neural, behavioral and physiological responses to stress. A previous study led 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.

Further Research on Other Drugs Warranted

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.”

Former Graduate Student Study’s First Author

The study was funded by the NY Research Foundation.

Lisa S. Robison, PhD, of the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, Albany Medical College, is first author on the paper. She is a former graduate student of Thanos.

Luke Alessi of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine is a co-author.