How the Love Hormone Could Fight Drug Addiction
Drug addiction is one of the greatest public health problems in the modern world. Fighting the necessity to satiate the reward system takes a lot more than courage. Even with all the behavioral therapies and medications involved, leaving the habit behind and keeping sobriety demands a conscious willpower that many people are unable to sustain. Given that current medications have their own limitations, and non-coercive behavioral therapies are typically dependent on the person's commitment, alternative treatment solutions are desirable to lower the chances of relapse to a minimum. From St George's Hospital Medical School (University of London) comes an interesting, fresh proposition: helping drug addicts with the ‘love hormone' oxytocin. The study has been published in the British Journal of Pharmacology.
How oxytocin could help prevent relapse
Researchers gathered extensive data by reviewing different studies on oxytocin and concluded that opioid and drug abstinence influence oxytocin levels in the organism. Oxytocin is a hormone that plays a major role in emotional bonding processes between people. It is instrumental in the development of the strong bond between mother and child, and promotes a positive social attitude that facilitates interpersonal relationships between individuals. But the most relevant aspect for the purposes of drug rehabilitation is how oxytocin interacts with addictive drugs: it inhibits tolerance to cocaine, opiates, and alcohol and reduces the symptoms associated with withdrawal. Given its drug interactions coupled with the interactions with the neurological system, the hormone can potentially be used to treat one's vulnerability to addiction.
The implication is that the development of new medications to treat addiction should leverage oxytocin’s anti-relapse potential. One of the authors of the study, Dr Alexis Bailey, says that the success of addiction recovery groups in keeping people abstinent is evidence of oxytocin's therapeutic potential for the treatment of drug addiction.
Next step – experimental research
Scientists hope that the promising findings of this study inspire a series of clinical research efforts seeking to empirically validate the efficacy of an oxytocin-based treatment. If it proves effective, the doors will be open for the development of a potentially definitive ‘cure' for drug addiction that will require neither coercive methods nor Herculean efforts of willpower for addicts to free themselves from the unhealthy habit.
Addiction is notoriously devastating to one's physical, psychological and emotional well-being, as well as relationships. It is also the cause of about 20% of all yearly deaths and 1/3 of inpatient care costs in hospitals in the USA alone. Yet, the vast majority of the doctors in the country are unqualified to deal with drug addicts. An effective anti-relapse medicine would not only offer victims the opportunity to live free of fear of relapse but also have positive economical, medical and social impacts on society.