Researchers have discovered that the hormone released on our brains during loving physical contact, such as cuddling, may have a sobering effect against alcohol.
Researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Regensburg in Australia have been testing the effects on rats of Oxytocin in the presence of alcohol. Oxytocin is also known as ‘the love hormone’ due to increased production in our brains during acts of intimacy. In humans, the hormone is known to act as a reward system in the human brain in a similar way to drugs that produce euphoria and cravings.
The new study involved infusing Oxytocin into the rats’ brains and administering a dose of alcohol to them, the equivalent of around one half bottle of wine in humans. Remarkably, the Oxytocin appeared to prevent the impaired coordination commonly experienced in drunkenness.
Dr Michael Bowen, lead author of the study said: “In the rat equivalent of a sobriety test, the rats given alcohol and Oxytocin passed with flying colours, while those given alcohol without Oxytocin were seriously impaired.”
A video released by the University of Sydney shows 3 rats in separate transparent containers. The first had been given no alcohol, the second only alcohol and the third alcohol and Oxytocin.
This is how they reacted:
Rat given no alcohol – moving around a lot within the container, with no impairment or apparent loss of energy
Rat given alcohol only – barely moving around the container, other than some head and eye movement, staying put for the duration of the video
Rat given alcohol and Oxytocin – moving around a lot within the container, with no impairment, much the same as the rat given no alcohol
Dr Bowen summarises the observations saying: “Those that had the Oxytocin were up and moving about as if they hadn’t had any alcohol at all, whereas the ones that didn’t have Oxytocin were quite heavily sedated.” The video is a simple demonstration that immediately demonstrates Oxytocin’s effects, but the research was a little more advanced than this may convey, as researchers tested the rats’ motor control and reaction times to provide discover similar findings.
Dr Bowen added: “Alcohol impairs your coordination by inhibiting the activity of brain regions that provide fine motor control. Oxytocin prevents this effect to the point where we can’t tell from their behaviour that the rats are actually drunk. It’s a truly remarkable effect.”
The team also observed that the Oxytocin did not make rats totally immune to the effects of alcohol, with the prevention being dependent on the doses. When they gave some rats the equivalent of about a bottle of Vodka, the Oxytocin was not enough to keep them awake.
Oxytocin use in humans
For the study’s implications to be relevant for any kind of use on people, the way in which the Oxytocin would be administered needs significant consideration. Researchers need to develop a safe method of delivering sufficient amounts of the hormone to the brain in order to attempt to replicate these findings in humans.
A sobriety test during human trials would most likely involve more than the testing of just motor control and reaction times. The effects on speech and cognition during relatively high levels of alcohol consumption could also be observed for example.
The future intension of use among humans involves development of new treatments for alcohol-use disorders, rather than to try and create an Oxytocin-based drug that encourages people to drink more alcohol due to feeling lessened effects, or try to hide that they have been drinking for dubious reasons.
Dr Bowen explained further benefits to Oxytocin’s effects. He said: “In addition to blocking alcohol intoxication, it has been shown that Oxytocin reduces alcohol consumption, prevents the development of tolerance to alcohol withdrawal.”
It is important to consider that while Oxytocin may block impairment from certain levels of consumption, it is not the same as having consumed no alcohol at all. It will not reduce blood alcohol level, as Dr Bowen explains: “Oxytocin is preventing the alcohol from accessing he sites in the brain that make you intoxicated, it is not causing alcohol to leave your system any faster.” Therefore Oxytocin could not be used to avoid drink driving offences for example.
Whatever the intended use for a substance may be – whether it is prescription medicine, for vaccination or even for weaning someone off another drug – there is always the possibility that it will be misused. If you are concerned that someone may be abusing drugs or alcohol, that they have become addicted, destructive or dependent then we may be able to help. AlphaBiolabs can provide Drug & Alcohol testing that could be the first step on their journey to recovery.
Please visit our Drugs & Alcohol pages or call 0333 600 1300 for more help and advice on Drugs & Alcohol testing.