According to experts, oxytocin, a key hormone the brain produces naturally, could help drug addicts avoid relapse and possibly holds the key to addiction treatment.
Although oxytocin has many psychological effects that influence emotion and social behavior, it is most often associated with breast-feeding and childbirth. Also called the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin has an anti-anxiety effect, and it has been studied repeatedly to determine its role in addiction.
A researcher team from St George’s, University of London has recently reviewed all the published evidence on oxytocin. They found that the oxytocin system is strongly affected by opioid use and abstinence.
The review included seminal studies conducted by Dr. Alexis Bailey’s group. The researchers propose that the oxytocin system should be an important target for developing new medicines that will help with the prevention of relapse among addicts and treatment of opioid addiction.
When drugs are taken, pathways in the brain that encourage pleasurable effects are activated. This makes the user want to repeat the experience. When drug use continues however, the brain’s tolerance to the effects of the drug increases and a bigger dose is required to achieve the same effects.
Dr Alexis Bailey was the senior author of the review. She noted that seeing that social support programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous have many benefits in keeping addicts abstinent, the findings in the review support that the use of oxytocin could be an effective therapy for the prevention of relapse to drug use in individuals that are drug dependent.
She felt that the need for clinical studies looking into this is obvious, given the clear evidence presented.
The full study was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.