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HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

"Love Hormone" Oxytocin May Relieve Alcohol Withdrawal

A very different kind of "oxy" could have a valuable and intriguing use, researchers find.


Oxytocin is released during moments of
bonding. Photo via

By Maia Szalavitz


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Oxytocin—the “love hormone,” not the opioid pain reliever—can relieve withdrawal symptoms in people with alcoholism, a new study finds. Researchers found that the need for benzodiazepines to ease withdrawal symptoms was five times lower in people given oxytocin, compared to a placebo. However, an extremely small sample size—just 11 participants—means that the research must be considered extremely preliminary. Still, its implications are fascinating. Oxytocin is a complex character: its levels peak at orgasm and during labor and breastfeeding—all times when social bonds are being formed. Research on rodents shows that it's involved in creating monogamous relationships and that essentially, it helps link your partner to your pleasure system. So togetherness is bliss, while rejection or distance means withdrawal. Could oxytocin similarly bind you to a drug? The fact that it relieves withdrawal suggests it may be making similar links: it’s not addictive in itself, but it connects the brain’s addiction-related pleasure areas to specific people, or, perhaps, drug-related cues.

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