Cocaine recovery can be very difficult, and the path is often ripe with negative emotions and severe stress that can lead to relapse. It's not just the drugs. People with cocaine use disorders may suffer increased impulsivity that makes it very difficult to focus on long-term goals instead of short-term gains. They can't stop the craving and have to give in. Nearly one million people in the United States are dependent on cocaine. Recovery needs reinforcement. About two-thirds of those who enter recovery relapse early in the program. So what can stop those cravings and impulsivity to give in? Researchers say, lower stress for improved cocaine recovery.
Exercise Improves Cocaine Recovery
New research shows that aerobic exercise may alter how stress affects those recovering from cocaine addiction and aid in cocaine recovery. University of Buffalo’s Research Institute of Addiction senior research scientist Panayotis K. Thanos, Ph.D., found that one hour of aerobic exercise every day can alter behavioral and physiological stress responses as well as decrease stress-induced behaviors that cause someone in recovery to seek out cocaine.
It is well known that people with cocaine use disorder respond to stress differently than non-users neurologically, physiologically, and behaviorally. Now, using adult female Sprague Dawley rats, Thanos and his team found that doing cardio workouts, (the rats spent one hour on a treadmill for five days a week) can reduce the stressors that cause those with use disorder to seek out the drug after working to stay sober. The study was published in the November 2018 issue of Behavioural Brain Research.
Cardio Workout Integration Recommended for Cocaine Recovery
Previously, Thanos looked at how exercise affected drug-seeking behavior – specifically, the neurobiological mechanisms that drove the behavior. In that study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2018, researchers showed that exercise-induced changes along the dopamine pathway could mediate drug-seeking behaviors.
Aerobic exercise, or cardio workouts, have already been shown to elevate mood and reduce stress hormones, decrease depression and anxiety, and help prevent conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. And the results of these two studies show that cardio workouts could have a useful place in treatment programs for individuals with cocaine use disorder and suggest that being active can essentially clear your memory in a way that can help addicts ‘forget’ cravings.
Thanos and the other study authors focused on cocaine addiction and suggest that more research should be done to learn if exercise can help improve recovery success rates for individuals who are addicted to other types of drugs. Interestingly, the results of the studies came just after the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K. pushed for cocaine, heroin, and marijuana to be legalized, so users can receive support and treatment instead of punishment.
Running Your Way to Cocaine Recovery
Long distance running, kettlebell training, lifting weights, clean diets, sports, and other activities have been associated with improved recovery statistics. In fact, a 2011 study found that 12 people considered marijuana-dependent realized a significant drop in cravings after just a few treadmill sessions. A 2012 study found that exercise may reduce meth-induced brain damage and have a positive effect on serotonin and dopamine receptors.
One thing remained constant in all these studies: sedentary rats, ferrets, and humans experienced cravings and relapses more than those who were active and focused on getting healthy.