The sobering effect of love

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Being in love might just be the best solution for a nasty hangover or making a fool out of yourself on a big night out.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Regensburg have discovered that the “love” hormone Oxytocin, has a remarkable inhibitory influence on the intoxicating effect of alcohol.

Oxytocin is known as the “love” or the “cuddle” hormone, due to its vital role in social and sexual behaviour, as well as long-term bonding.

The researchers infused either the love hormone or a control compound called Ringer’s solution into the brains of rats, which were then given ethanol (alcohol). The rats that were given the hormone and then the alcohol showed less lack of coordination than those who were given the control compound.

“In the rat equivalent of a sobriety test, the rats given alcohol and oxytocin passed with flying colours, while those given alcohol without oxytocin were seriously impaired,” Lead author Dr Michael Bowen of the University of Sydney explained.

The researchers demonstrated that oxytocin prevents alcohol from accessing specific sites in the brain that cause alcohol’s intoxicating effects.

“Alcohol impairs your coordination by inhibiting the activity of brain regions that provide fine motor control. Oxytocin prevents this effect to the point where we can’t tell from their behaviour that the rats are actually drunk. It’s a truly remarkable effect,” Dr Bowen said.

However, if the effect is demonstrated in humans, any type of Oxytocin enhancer that might be created will not save you from being arrested while driving home intoxicated.

“While Oxytocin might reduce your level of intoxication, it won’t actually change your blood alcohol level,” Dr Bowen asserted. “This is because the Oxytocin is preventing the alcohol from accessing the sites in the brain that make you intoxicated, it is not causing the alcohol to leave your system any faster”.

There are worries that any drug made to decrease intoxication levels might increase the amount of alcohol consumed by individuals on a night out. However, the research team believe, in accordance with previous research, that Oxytocin also reduces alcohol consumption and craving in both rats and humans.

The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) earlier this week.

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