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Study: Oxytocin, the love hormone, has sobering effect

Scientists are hopeful that oxytocin-derived drugs might be successfully used to treat alcohol dependency.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Oxytocin, the love hormone, has sobering effect
Alcohol's effects were mitigated when lab mice and lab rats took oxytocin. File Photo by rw/HO/Carolyn Cronin/UPI. | License Photo

SYDNEY, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Oxytocin, a hormone that acts primarily as a neuromodulator, can get you drunk on intimacy. But new research suggests it can also quickly quash a beer buzz.

Often called the "love hormone" for its role in promoting certain sexual and reproductive behaviors, as well as long-term mating, oxytocin also has a less romantic effect. As researchers from Australia's University of Sydney and the University of Regensburg, in Germany, recently found, the hormone blocks the inebriating effects of alcohol.

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"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," lead study author Dr. Michael Bowen, a researcher at Sydney's School of Psychology, explained in a press release.

The alcohol remains in the rat's system, but the presence of oxytocin prevents the intoxicating effects from accessing delta-subunit GABA-A receptors in the rat's brain -- thereby negating alcohol's physiological consequences, like loss of motor control.

Researchers have yet to test the hormone's sobering effects on humans, but plan to do so soon. However, separate experiments have shown regular doses of oxytocin seem to reduce alcohol consumption in lab rats and humans. Scientists are hopeful that oxytocin-derived drugs might be successfully used to treat alcohol dependency.

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"We believe that the effects of oxytocin on alcohol consumption and craving act through a similar mechanism in the brain to the one identified in our research," said Bowen.

The new study was published online this week in the journal PNAS.

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