“Scientists at Scripps Research and National Institute on Drug Abuse discovered that oxytocin could block the desire to consume more alcohol in rat models. They believe that the hormone could be an effective pharmaceutical approach in treating alcohol dependence”.

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is widely known as the “bonding hormone” for its effects of love and lust between two individuals in a relationship. Physical acts such as kissing and hugging stimulate the release of more oxytocin causing even stronger chemistry between two lovers. It is a natural peptide hormone that is produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and is released via the posterior pituitary in mother’s undergoing childbirth and breastfeeding. The true bond between a mother and her newborn baby is initiated and strengthened over time due to oxytocin. Problems in social and emotional development have been linked to the oxytocin systems, and abnormalities in the oxytocin receptor gene have been linked to empathy, trust, maternal behavior, stress reduction, anxiety, and depression. Oxytocin is making a significant impact in science and is currently being researched to treat alcohol use in adults and has been shown to produce effects on the amygdala, which is a center of the brain that is responsible for fear and arousal.

How alcohol affects the hypothalamus and the amygdala

Over time alcohol affects the hypothalamus and the amygdala, which results in emotional labile moods and blackouts. Both of these areas in the brain are responsible for fear, arousal, and emotional regulation and when these areas are inhibited due to alcohol, the individual begins to act on animal instincts alone.

Taking a look at the study

“Oxytocin has been reported to decrease consumption, withdrawal and drug-seeking behavior associated with several drugs of abuse, including alcohol, and now we are a step closer to fully understanding why,” said Marisa Roberto, co-author, and faculty in the department of neuroscience at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California. In the study, researchers hypothesized that oxytocin could normalize the changes in the brain that occur as an individual develops alcohol use disorder. They specifically looked at the effect of oxytocin on the part of the brain called amygdala. Results of the experiment showed that oxytocin successfully blocked excess drinking in alcohol-dependent lab rats. The drug did not show the same effect in healthy, nondependent rats. Oxytocin worked by blocking the signals of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

How alcohol affects the general public

According to statistics, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people or one in every 12 adults are diagnosed with an alcohol abuse disorder and millions of more individuals engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking that can potentially lead to alcohol abuse disorder. Unfortunately, the individual who is abusing alcohol is not the only person negatively affected by this behavior. This behavior burdens most of the time, family, friends and even children. The mainstream media often does not shed light on the gravity of alcohol abuse and instead publicizes it as acceptable social behavior. Treatment for alcohol abuse disorder is focused on psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to medication management that help curb cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Medications such as disulfuram, naltrexone, benzodiazepines, and acomprosate are known to ease withdrawal symptoms and prevent future cravings but can create unwanted side effects if not taken as directed. Since oxytocin is a natural hormone created in the body, researchers and clinicians alike hope that this can pave the way to a healthier mode to recovery for individuals who are struggling with alcohol abuse disorder.

Source: Tuntsel, Kurson et all, Oxytocin Blocks Enhanced Motivation… PLOS Biology. April 2019 https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.2006421