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'Love' hormone may treat alcohol addiction

IANS  |  Sydney 

'Love' hormone does not only help you bond better with your partner but also has a sobering effect on alcohol use, an interesting study shows.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Regensburg in Germany have discovered that oxytocin has a remarkable influence on the intoxicating effect of alcohol.

When the researchers infused oxytocin into the brains of rats which were then given alcohol, it prevented the lack of coordination caused by the alcohol.

The findings could pave the way for the development of drugs that help treat alcoholism in humans.

"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 cannot tell from their behaviour that the rats are actually drunk. It is a truly remarkable effect," explained Dr Michael Bowen from the University of Sydney's school of psychology.

It's worth noting that oxytocin cannot save you from being arrested while driving home from the bar.

"While oxytocin might reduce your level of intoxication, it will not actually change your blood alcohol level," Dr Bowen noted.

This is because the oxytocin is preventing the alcohol from accessing the sites in the brain that make you intoxicated, it is not causing the alcohol to leave your system any faster, the authors noted.

During the study, the rats given alcohol and oxytocin passed with flying colours while those given alcohol without oxytocin were seriously impaired.

The team demonstrated that oxytocin prevents alcohol from accessing specific sites in the brain that cause alcohol's intoxicating effects, sites known as delta-subunit GABA-A receptors.

This "sobering-up" effect of oxytocin has yet to be shown in humans but the researchers plan to conduct these studies in the near future.

The first step will be to ensure that scientists have a method of drug delivery for humans that allows sufficient amounts of oxytocin to reach the brain.

"If we can do that, we suspect that oxytocin could also leave speech and cognition much less impaired after relatively high levels of alcohol consumption," Dr Bowen concluded.

The paper appeared in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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First Published: Tue, February 24 2015. 13:36 IST