News, Culture & Society

Nasal spray of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin could combat alcoholism, study suggests

A nasal spray of the ‘love hormone’ made alcoholic rats turn down booze – and researchers say it could work for humans

  • Researchers gave lab rats a dose of oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’
  • Alcohol-dependent rats who were given a dose drank less than normal rats 
  • The team found oxytocin boosts signaling of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which alcohol binds to, in a section of the brain often damaged by excess booze

A nasal spray of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin could combat alcoholism, according to a new study.

Researchers said that, in experiments performed on rats, the rodents that were hooked on booze drank less after a dose of the chemical.

Oxytocin is triggered by bonding behavior – including sexual intercourse and breastfeeding – and has already been suggested as a treatment for eating disorders, anxiety and drug addiction.

But the new study found it also reduced consumption in alcohol-dependent rats, thanks to oxytocin’s effect on the brain’s GABA receptors, where alcohol is thought to exert its intoxicating effects.

The findings could lead to the development of a pioneering treatment for alcohol use disorder in humans, says the team from the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.

A new study from the National Institutes of Health found that alcohol-dependent rats who were given a dose of oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’, drank less than normal rats (file image)

Previous research has shown administering oxytocin can reduce consumption and associated with several drugs of abuse.

It shows promise as a ‘pharmacological approach to treat drug addiction,’ according to the researchers.

So the team decided to find out how it mediates these effects by using an animal model of alcohol dependency.

For the study, published in PLOS Biology, researchers gave both alcohol-dependent rats and normal rats a dose of oxytocin.

‘The experiments demonstrated oxytocin administered systemically, intranasally or into the brain blocked excess drinking in alcohol-dependent but not in normal rats,’ said lead author Dr Brendan Tunstall of the National Institutes of Health.

His team found it worked by boosting signaling of the neurotransmitter GABA in the central nucleus of the amygdala, the part of the brain that is responsible for detecting fear and preparing for emergency events.

That is a key brain region in the network of neurons damaged by alcohol dependence, said Dr Tunstall. 

‘Taken together, these results provide evidence that oxytocin likely blocks enhanced drinking by altering GABA transmission [in the amygdala],’ he added.

‘These results provide evidence that aberrations in the oxytocin system may underlie alcohol use disorder.’

The team says that because oxytocin blocked GABA signaling, it could lead to potential new therapies, such as a nasal spray, for alcohol abusers. 


Comments are closed.