The hormone oxytoxin, known as the “love hormone” because of its role in social bonding, may help block symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, a new small study suggests.
Previous studies conducted in rodents have shown the hormone can block alcohol and heroin withdrawal symptoms, Time reports. If given before someone becomes addicted, oxytocin might prevent the development of tolerance and dependence, according to the magazine.
The new study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, included 11 people whose alcoholism produced withdrawal symptoms that were not severe enough to cause potentially life-threatening seizures.
During detox, people with alcoholism generally are given benzodiazepines, such as Valium (diazepam) or Ativan (lorazepam), to relieve withdrawal symptoms, including seizures. People who do not suffer seizures are given the drugs as needed, so the amount of benzodiazepines they take can be used as a measure of how severe their withdrawal is.
The study found participants given oxytocin through a nasal spray needed almost five times less lorazepam, compared with those given a placebo medication. They also experienced less anxiety. Oxytocin itself is not addictive, the article notes.
The researchers say their study is the first evidence that oxytocin may block alcohol withdrawal symptoms in humans. They add the results should be considered very preliminary, because the study was so small.