Alcohol And Love Have Very Similar Effects On The Brain

Lily Monster/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A recent study, published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, has found that alcohol and the "love hormone" oxytocin have a nearly identical effect on behaviour.

Oxytocin is the hormone associated with love, hugs, orgasms and all things intimate. It plays a huge role in maternal bonding, and it’s also been found to be a key molecule in our reaction to romantic partners. When we get a surge oxytocin from an intimate moment, the hormone suppresses areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal and limbic cortical circuits, which control how we perceive feelings of stress, inhibition and anxiety.

Does that sound familiar? It was this thought that prompted the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham to look into the similarities between oxytocin and alcohol.

In a statement, Dr Ian Mitchell, one of the researchers said, "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."

The research compared the neurological response to nasally ingested oxytocin and "acute" alcohol consumption. They found that the two compounds had a stunningly similar effect.

He added, "They appear to target different receptors within the brain, but cause common actions on GABA [an inhibitory neurotransmitter] 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."

However, if you’ve ever woken up on a Saturday morning with a sore head full of blurry, embarrassing memories, you know that alcohol is not a wonder drug – and oxytocin is no different. The research found the negative effects of oxytocin and alcohol were also the same. Both compounds can make people more aggressive, more boastful, more envious and less socially inclusive to those outside of one's social group. By hampering our ability to perceive fear and anxiety, they can also put us at risk of harm.

Image credit: Lily Monster/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)


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