Published: 20 December 2013

Can the body’s love drug help us beat addiction?

Research by academics in Surrey’s Department of Biochemistry has revealed that therapies containing the hormone oxytocin could transform former drug addicts’ ability to stay clean.

Drug abuse has a major impact on individuals, families and society as a whole. Around 70% of recovering addicts relapse and, across Europe, treating opioid and alcohol addiction costs around €66bn a year.

Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’ due to its prosocial effects and its involvement in pair bonding. It can also relieve anxiety, depression and other intense emotions associated with drug withdrawal. An oxytocin nasal spray has been found to improve emotional responses in people with autistic disorders, and is currently in clinical trials.

Research at Surrey, part funded by The Royal Society and conducted by PhD students Panos Zanos and Polymnia Georgiou in Dr Alexis Bailey’s lab, has illustrated oxytocin-like compounds have a remarkable ability to reverse the adverse emotional consequences of opioid withdrawal and to prevent relapse. 

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Dr Bailey, Lecturer in Neuropharmacology at University of Surrey, said: “The main problem in treating recovering drug addicts is the maintenance of an abstinent state, as anxiety, depression and social withdrawal are strong motivational triggers for relapse.

“As a result of our studies, we believe that oxytocin has immense potential for helping addicts remain drug free.”

Results from this study showed that oxytocin is not euphorogenic which makes it unlikely that people would get addicted to oxytocin instead.

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