‘Drunk in love’ concept backed by science

21st May, 2015 by Annie Hayes

A recent study explored the effects of ‘love hormone’ oxytocin and found that it affects the brain in almost exactly the same way as drinking alcohol.

love

The research found distinct similarities between the effects of alcohol and oxytocin on our actions

Oxytocin is a brain chemical which plays a key role in social interactions and reactions to “romantic partners”, increasing behaviours such as altruism, generosity, empathy, and trust.

The research, conducted by the University of Birmingham and published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, used data from existing studies on the two compounds, and found distinct similarities between the effects of both.

Dr Ian Mitchell, from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, explained: “We thought it was an area worth exploring, so we pooled existing research into the effects of both oxytocin and alcohol and were struck by the incredible similarities between the two compounds.”

“They appear to target different receptors within the brain, but cause common actions on GABA transmission in the prefrontal cortex and the limbic structures. These neural circuits control how we perceive stress or anxiety, especially in social situations such as interviews, or perhaps even plucking up the courage to ask somebody on a date. Taking compounds such as oxytocin and alcohol can make these situations seem less daunting.”

The research revealed that although the two compounds target different receptors in the brain, they cause a common action on the parts of the brain that control how stress and anxiety is dealt with.

The result is lowered inhibitions, especially in situations seen as “stressful”– such as going on a first date.

Dr Steven Gillespie said: “The idea of ‘Dutch courage’ – having a drink to overcome nerves – is used to battle those immediate obstacles of fear and anxiety. Oxytocin appears to mirror these effects in the lab.”

However, like alcohol, oxytocin can also make people become more aggressive, envious or boastful, while reducing the sense of “fear”.

Dr Gillespie added: “I don’t think we’ll see a time when oxytocin is used socially as an alternative to alcohol. But it is a fascinating neurochemical and, away from matters of the heart, has a possible use in treatment of psychological and psychiatric conditions.

“Understanding exactly how it suppresses certain modes of action and alters our behaviour could provide real benefits for a lot of people. Hopefully this research might shed some new light on it and open up avenues we hadn’t yet considered.”

 

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