“Our thinking is that oxytocin can also help mitigate the stress response induced by trauma, and therefore keep particular behaviors at bay.”
~ Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, PhD, the University of California San Francisco’s Institute for Translational Neuroscience
Could oxytocin – also known as the “love hormone” – emerge as a viable treatment for PTSD and the alcohol abuse that so frequently co-occurs alongside it? Recent research suggests exactly that.
Earlier this year, Dr. Mitchell, an adjunct associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCSF, conducted a study to determine if oxytocin decreases alcohol cravings and reactions to stress.
PTSD and Addiction
Many PTSD sufferers attempt to self-medicate with intoxicating substances – especially alcohol:
- Among men with PTSD, 52% will be diagnosed with an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
- 35% will abuse illicit or prescription drugs.
- Among women with PTSD, 28% will have an AUD within their lifetime.
- 27% will abuse drugs.
- Three-fourths of survivors of violent trauma or abuse have an AUD.
- One-third of people who survive accidents, disasters, serious illnesses self-report having an AUD.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone that is released during actions that promote bonding between humans – childbirth, breast-feeding, and sex, for example. It plays a prominent role in creating feelings of empathy, trust, and other social behaviors. It also helps relieve anxiety and stress.
How Does Oxytocin Help PTSD?
Because oxytocin promotes social bonding, it helps reduce the social isolation and anxiety experienced by people suffering with PTSD. And, since survivors of past trauma often have trouble trusting others, improved bonding can help patients establish a better rapport with their therapist.
How does Oxytocin Help Alcohol Addiction?
Obviously, oxytocin helps alleviate the emotional conditions that can contribute to substance abuse. But specifically in the case of alcohol, oxytocin does even more. Studies have shown:
- It decreases the pleasurable effects of alcohol.
- It prevents alcohol from accessing those brain regions that respond to alcohol’s intoxicating effects.
What’s Next for Oxytocin as a Treatment Option?
Although the study won’t be completed until mid-2019, the potential outcome is exciting. Dr. Mitchell says, “The amount of money spent managing the fallout of PTSD and substance abuse in our whole society is enormous. We’re hoping we can address that by bringing an overlooked, cheap, accessible drug into use for the public.”
Lasting Recovery outpatient drug and alcohol rehab in San Diego specializes the treatment of dual diagnoses – when addiction co-occurs with other mental disorders. By taking an evidence-based and total-wellness-focused approach, Lasting Recovery can help you restore both your sobriety and your balance.
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