Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that originates in the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, and some other locations. The kind secreted by the body is endogenous, originating inside. Exogenous oxytocin is the kind synthesized in a lab and introduced from outside, usually intravenously or intramuscularly for obstetrical procedures, and via intranasal spray for other purposes.
The body’s dopaminergic system is influenced by oxytocin, which is why it has been looked at for years as a potential door into dependencies, addictions, cravings, and compulsions.
Oxytocin is perceived as a “potential mediator and regulator of drug addiction.” But not much progress could be made, as long as nobody understood the cellular mechanism of the hormone in regard to the moderation of drug-seeking behavior. Researchers hypothesized about one illicit drug in particular:
These findings suggest that oxytocin mediates cocaine seeking through interacting with glutamate receptor systems via second messenger cascades in mesocorticolimbic regions.
As always, when a substance seems to be helpful in treating one kind of addiction, experts in other addiction-related areas perk up their ears. One study found that the hormone…
[…] has fascinating potential to reverse the corrosive effects of long-term drugs abuse on social behavior and to perhaps inoculate against future vulnerability to addictive disorders.
One of the “predictors and indicators” of drug addiction is novelty seeking. Some people become addicted because their brains are too active in pursuit of new stimuli, and their drug of choice is able to order the chaos and make it more manageable. Some become addicted because, even though the brain seeks novelty, the environment is so stultifying that the only solution is to numb the brain to the point where it is incapable of any curiosity or enthusiasm.
So, a 2015 study looked into the association between oxytocin and novelty seeking, which seems to be negative. The substance tends to make people more content to “be here now,” enjoying and appreciating life moment by moment.
Earlier this year, a four-author study from Iran’s Kashan University of Medical Sciences examined the usefulness of oxytocin to alleviate opioid dependence, because the current pharmacopeia is inadequate. Apparently the available choices don’t work that well, and their side effects serve as deterrents. The report says,
Increasing bodies of evidences suggest the neuropeptide, oxytocin (OT), as a potential treatment for drug abuse disorders. The current study was designed to evaluate the effect of OT on withdrawal, craving and anxiety scores, cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS) blood level in heroin-dependent male patients.
These results suggest that OT may be useful in the attenuation of craving, withdrawal symptom in heroin-dependent patients and might be considered a new potential treatment for heroin dependence…
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Source: “Oxytocin Reduces Cocaine Seeking and Reverses Chronic Cocaine-Induced Changes in Glutamate Receptor Function,” NIH.gov, 10/31/14
Source: “Breaking the loop: Oxytocin as a potential treatment for drug addiction,” NIH.gov, March 2012
Source: “Association between Blood Level of Plasma Oxytocin and Novelty Seeking among Methadone-Maintained Heroin Users,” NIH.gov, 04/09/15
Source: “The Effects of Oxytocin on Withdrawal, Craving and Stress Response in Heroin-Dependent Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial,” NIH.gov, 01/10/19
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