Oxytocin and Alcohol Abuse

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Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition in which a person cannot stop or manage their alcohol use despite serious consequences and risks attached to their drinking. People may have a spectrum of severity ranging from mild to severe use of alcohol, and many times, we see addictive behavior frequently occur in families. It has been shown that evidence-based therapies and treatment can help reduce and stop the use of alcohol. According to research, 14.1 million adults reported an alcohol use disorder in 2019. Successful treatment can include therapy, medication, and support groups.

Current research shows that oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” may successfully treat alcohol use disorder. Let’s learn more about what oxytocin is, how it may help treat alcohol use disorder and the risks and benefits of this specific type of treatment.

Would you benefit from treatment for your alcohol use disorder? Please reach out to Guardian Recovery. Our staff comprises leading addiction experts, and we prioritize compassion and empathy throughout your treatment. Not only does this help set you up for success, but it ensures a solid foundation for recovery. Our goal at Guardian Recovery is to ensure anyone who needs addiction services can receive accessible care. Please reach out to answer any questions. Our team is ready to help navigate your journey toward wellness.

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Oxytocin Therapy for Alcoholism Treatment

new study has determined that the hormone, oxytocin, can block drinking in alcohol-dependent rats. The research concluded that administering oxytocin directly to alcohol-dependent rats decreased alcohol consumption. Additionally, it helped with withdrawal symptoms and drug-seeking behavior associated with alcohol and other frequently abused drugs.

This could be a groundbreaking medical advancement in pharmaceutical treatment for addiction. One of the questions researchers are still trying to answer is- how does this work?

One hypothesis is that oxytocin blocks a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA. GABA and alcohol do not mix. The primary role of GABA is to regulate the nervous system in the body. It is responsible for balance, thinking, alertness, and the ability to move. The problem with alcohol is that when a person consumes alcohol, it depletes GABA production, which often shows short-term and long-term side effects during intoxication.

So if oxytocin blocks alcohol from impairing the GABA neurotransmitter, there is no known impairment to the central nervous system, which reduces the need or desire to drink alcohol.

What Is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus. It is seen in women during childbirth which helps the uterus contract during labor. It is also created during lactation. Additionally, it is produced in men during sperm transportation. Oxytocin is called the “love hormone” because it plays a component in love, attachment, and bonding with others. Oxytocin is also a key component in sexual arousal.

What happens to the body if it has too much or too little oxytocin? It is still unclear. However, high oxytocin levels can be linked to benign prostatic hyperplasia, which impacts men over 60. This condition affects a man’s ability to urinate. A lack of oxytocin can impact a woman’s ability to breastfeed.

Low oxytocin is also linked to neurological conditions such as autism, known for poor social functioning, attachment, and bonding with others. It is suggested oxytocin may be a possible treatment for depression. However, there is still little evidence to support oxytocin as a potential treatment for these conditions.

How Would Oxytocin Treat Alcohol Use Disorder?

According to the scientific study regarding oxytocin and alcohol use disorder, oxytocin was directly administered to rats through the nose, systematically, or even directly into the brain. Once the treatment was provided, scientists monitored the behavior of rats to see if they continued to seek alcohol. The drug did not show the same effect in normal, non-dependent rats. It was determined that oxytocin was blocking the GABA receptors, triggering intoxication in those who consume alcohol.

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Oxytocin Cancels Out the Effects of Intoxication

Amazingly, when rats were given oxytocin to see the effects on how they did with alcohol, the oxytocin was able to block any noticeable signs of intoxication completely. Researchers gave the rats a sobriety test to see how they would do. The rats given alcohol and oxytocin passed the sobriety test, whereas the rats that were only given alcohol failed.

A successful double-blind study using human participants to measure the effectiveness of oxytocin as a treatment approach for heroin-dependent people has shown promising results. This study concluded that oxytocin given nasally to participants showed a reduction in cortisol levels, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings associated with detoxification from heroin.

Oxytocin Withdrawal and Risks

There is minimal data regarding the body’s response to oxytocin, withdrawals, or associated risks. It is believed that most people would respond well to oxytocin as a treatment method as it is a well-known substance produced by the body. Currently, the only oxytocin provided as a treatment is for inducing labor.

Although there is little research regarding risks associated with oxytocin as a treatment, there are known cautions when giving oxytocin as a way to induce labor. One particularly concerning side effect, is toxicity.  Examples include water intoxication triggering seizures, coma, and death if administered with fluids.

Finally, because oxytocin is only given to women in active labor, excessive oxytocin can put a woman and fetus at risk by triggering uterine contractions and abnormal fetal heart rate.

It is unknown whether oxytocin will be an available treatment method for individuals struggling with addiction. However, it does provide promising evidence that more can be done with pharmaceutical treatments for addiction and detoxification. Many different types of evidence-based therapies can increase a person’s success in their recovery.

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Do you want to learn more about effective addiction treatment? At Guardian Recovery, our mission is to provide comprehensive treatment for anyone in need. We will take the time to assess your needs and provide compassionate, well-informed care to guide you toward wellness. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, several principles go hand-in-hand with effective addiction treatment. These principles are as follows:

  • Addiction is a complex disease.
  • Effective treatment methods vary depending on the unique needs of each individual.
  • Addiction treatment must be easily accessible.
  • Treatment must address every need of the individual.
  • Successful clients stay involved in treatment long-term.
  • Behavioral therapies are the most common and effective methods of treatment.
  • Medication Assisted Treatment must be combined with behavioral therapy.
  • All underlying mental health conditions must be addressed.
  • Individual treatment plans must be continuously re-assessed and modified accordingly.
  • Clients have to become willing to receive support over time.
  • Treatment must be closely monitored.

We can provide a no-obligation insurance benefit check at your convenience. Please contact us today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190416141911.htm
  3. https://www.gbhoh.com/gaba-and-alcohol-how-drinking-leads-to-anxiety/#:~:text=The%20main%20issue%20between%20GABA,%2D%20and%20long%2Dterm%20symptoms.
  4. https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/oxytocin/
  5. https://www.techtimes.com/articles/241765/20190418/cuddle-hormone-oxytocin-may-help-treat-alcoholism.htm
  6. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-02-sobering-effect-hormone-video.html
  7. https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/496194
  8. https://www.drugs.com/monograph/oxytocin.html

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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