Alcohol-dependent individuals may finally have a way to curb addiction through the help of a love drug called oxytocin, a hormone responsible for social bonding.

Scientists at Scripps Research and National Institute on Drug Abuse discovered that oxytocin can 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.

The Way Oxytocin Works

In the study, researchers hypothesized that oxytocin could normalize the changes in the brain that occur as a person develops alcohol use disorder. They specifically looked at the effect of the love hormone on the part of the brain called amygdala.

Results of the experiment showed that oxytocin successfully blocked excess drinking in alcohol-dependent lab rats. Modes of administration were either systemically, intranasally, or directly into the brain.

The drug did not show the same effect in normal, nondependent rats. Oxytocin worked by blocking the signals of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

The brain already produces its own supply of oxytocin. Using it as a treatment for alcohol dependence will likely be well-tolerated in humans.

Co-author Dean Kirson said they believe that the drug would eventually lead to the development of novel treatments for alcohol addiction.

"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.

The study was published in the April 16 issue of PLOS Biology.

More Than Just Alcohol Abuse

More Americans were struggling with an alcohol addiction, according to a study of the drinking patterns of some 40,000 people in the years 2003 and 2003, and then in 2012 and 2013.

Results of the study, which were published in JAMA Psychiatry, revealed that alcohol use disorders increased by 50 percent. Approximately 30 million Americans were actively struggling with alcohol abuse.

Women, seniors, and members of minorities were most affected. The study also showed high-risk drinking patterns. High-risk drinkers were women who had four or more drinks a day and men with five or more drinks a day, plus any day in a week where they exceeded that number.

Experts said alcohol abuse in the country is seen as a public health crisis similar to the current national opioid crisis. They encouraged all stakeholders to destigmatize alcohol use disorders so affected individuals can seek appropriate treatment.

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