Reactivity to laboratory stress provocation predicts relapse to cocaine

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2010 Jan 1;106(1):21-7. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2009.07.016. Epub 2009 Sep 2.


Background: Cocaine dependence is a chronic relapsing disorder characterized by periods of abstinence and high rates of return to drug using behavior. Elevated levels of stress have been associated with relapse to cocaine; however, the nature of this association is not well understood.

Methods: The relationship between reactivity to three human laboratory provocations and relapse to cocaine was investigated. Participants were 53 cocaine-dependent individuals who were admitted for a 2-day inpatient stay during which a psychosocial provocation (i.e., the Trier Social Stress Task), a pharmacological provocation (i.e., administration of 1 microg/kg corticotrophin releasing hormone; CRH), and a drug cue exposure paradigm were completed. Adrenocortico-trophic hormone (ACTH), cortisol, heart rate, and subjective cocaine craving and stress were assessed at baseline and at multiple time points post-task. Participants' cocaine use was monitored for approximately 1 month following testing.

Results: The majority (72.3%) of participants relapsed to cocaine during the follow-up period. In response to the CRH and drug cue exposure, elevated subjective craving and stress were significant predictors of cocaine use during follow-up. In response to the Trier, attenuated neuroendocrine responses were significant predictors of cocaine use.

Conclusions: The findings provide further evidence of the ability of laboratory paradigms to predict relapse. The observed associations between stress reactivity and subsequent cocaine use highlight the clinical importance of the findings. Predictors of relapse may vary based on the type of provocation utilized. Interventions aimed at normalizing stress response, as measured using laboratory paradigms, may prove useful in relapse prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adult
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone / blood
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Male
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Recurrence
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Survival Analysis


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone