Hundreds of writers have written about love and the miracles this feeling or magic gives to mankind. Maybe these genius minds of the words are right and science is eager to prove if their words are true. The biological basis of love from a scientific point of view can be very complicated and makes a large discussion nowadays. Love in science has a hormonal basis among all. The key hormone which carries so much curiosity is oxytocin. This is why it is often referred as the love hormone. In this article, we will present a short review of the latest research about oxytocin and its relation to potential drug abuse behaviors. Is the love hormone the future cure for drug addiction?   

Oxytocin (OT) hormone is produced in the hypothalamus, then it is released from the pituitary gland to the blood stream. This hormone produces an essential role in creating social interactions and especially maternal behavior. There is much of variability in people's oxytocin levels. We are born with a certain amount of this hormone in our blood but the OT systems are not fully developed until the age of three years old. OT receptors are found everywhere in our bodies and the OT systems are influenced by internal and external factors as well. According to the researchers at the University of Adelaide poor development of the OT systems the first years of life, predisposes for addictive behaviors in adulthood. OT system development is defined by gender, genetics and mostly by the environment. Hardships and bad experiences are something we can control somehow and help our young children to develop strong OT systems. Dr.Buisman-Pijlman says that this adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, or severe infection, to name just a few factors. Furthermore, "Oxytocin can reduce the pleasure of drugs and feeling of stress, but only if the system develops well," says the doctor. 

Oxytocin affects primarily the adaptive components of drug addiction. Many studies are done to distinguish the mechanism how oxytocin helps in addictive behaviors. It is already proved that the love hormone inhibits the drug tolerance and addiction to morphine, ethanol, and cocaine. It reduces the self-administration of heroin as evidenced by studies. These conclusions came out after administering OT hormone to the affected subjects(most studies are done in rats) and the results were checked. The primary site of action of the hormone is the central nervous system. This is assumed as the peripheral injections were less potent than intracerebral administrations of OT. On the other hand, we must consider that the blood-brain barrier is damaged in drug addiction. Chronic use of drugs of abuse leads to drug tolerance which is the adaptive response of the brain to protect itself and further exaggerates to drug dependence as larger doses are needed to retain the same effect of the drug. Oxytocin systems enhanced under these circumstances may play an essential functional role especially in the early stages of brain adaptation by modulating the adaptive functions of the brain. It is suggested that oxytocin expresses its functions not only using its receptors but it can also modulate other hormones activity such as dopamine for example. Oxytocin, like all other intrinsic neuropeptides, is present in the brain and blood only for few minutes but the effects are much more long lasting. This is due to the fact that these hormones are capable of triggering secondary events in the brain which make the outcome last. 

Further studies and clinical trials are needed to define how we can use OT as a treatment for drug use disorders and to distinguish the limitations of this treatment. Intranasal oxytocin spray clinical trials in addictive populations may give us the answers we are looking for but yet these kind of studies are not yet established. Synthetic neuropeptide and maybe oxytocin agonists like WAY 267 464 (Hicks et al., under review; Ring et al., 2010) are the future of OT base treatments. The main role of OT is in within the female body, childbirth, and breastfeeding and this may be one limitation of this treatment. Other limits may settle in the ethical contexts. It would be unaccepted to give our children love hormone to make them socially more successful in the future instead of real love of family and peers. Hormones do not develop characters neither they do solve our lives. Anyway, the future looks promising in treating the drug use disorders using love and love hormone as well. Supportive policies are already offered to this population of patients and news about OT treatment will come soon from new studies.


COPYRIGHT: This article is property of We Speak Science, a nonprofit institution co-founded by Dr. Detina Zalli (Harvard University) and Dr. Argita Zalli (Imperial College London). The article is written by Hatixhe Kashari.