Treating Addiction with Oxytocin
Opioid addiction and overdose are a global problem and there is urgency in finding alternative pain therapies and solutions to this pervasive dependency. In the United States, drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of demise by injury with more than six out of ten attributable to opioids.1 In a recent Cell Press review in Trends in Neurosciences, Michael T. Bowen and Inga D. Neumann explore targeting the oxytocin system as a potential treatment for addiction. Oxytocin is a nine-residue peptide hormone, and is typically known for its roles in uterine contractions, milk let-down during lactation, social and sexual bonding, and food preference.2 However, the oxytocin system also appears to decrease the reward effects of a wide-range of addictive substances by inhibiting the stimulant effects and reducing withdrawal symptom severity. With oxytocin being spread broadly across brain receptors, it is heavily involved in promoting social interactions as well as regulating stress and anxiety. The authors surmise that oxytocin gives preference to social interactions, over addiction response, thus decreasing the addictive properties of the abused substance. It is thought that oxytocin also blocks substance-induced dopamine-release.3
- G. Leng & N. Sabatier, Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, (2017).
- M.T. Bowen & I.D. Neumann, Trends in Neurosciences, 40(12), 691 (2017).