Week 9 – Tuesday’s 2 Minute Sip – Drunkin Love
Written by: Dana Dovery (@danadovery)
No, you’re not crazy: Being in love and being drunk are actually pretty much the same thing — at least according to our brains. A recent study compared the physical effects of the hormone oxytocin and alcohol and found they had near identical effects on neurological behavior.
The link between alcohol and love has always been noted: Both make you feel happy, invincible, and filled with sadness once the effects wear off. However, this study, currently published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, took an even closer look at the interesting relationship between these two unlikely pairs.
“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,” Dr. Ian Mitchell, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained in a press release.
Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” or the “hug hormone,” is a chemical compound produced by the brain which assists in love and human reproduction and has been described as helping a species propagate.
The hormone is released during skin-to-skin contact and is the reason why being physically close to another individual can often feel so good. The hormone is also involved in female reproduction; it’s released to help naturally ease the pain of labor and reduce bleeding after childbirth, and also during breastfeeding to help women naturally bond with their newborns.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is also organic, but rather than being made in the human body is produced by fermenting yeast, sugar, and starches.
The research revealed that although the two compounds target different receptors in the brain, they cause common action on transmissions in the prefrontal cortex and the limbic structures — brain structures which control how we perceive stress and anxiety. The result is lowered inhibitions, especially in stressful situations, such as an interview or asking someone out on a date.
“Taking compounds such as oxytocin and alcohol can make these situations seem less daunting,” Mitchell said.
This may explain why both alcohol and being in love help us to take a “leap of faith” and do things that we wouldn’t under normal circumstances — both for the better and worse.
“The idea of ‘Dutch courage’ — having a drink to overcome nerves — is used to battle those immediate obstacles of fear and anxiety. Oxytocin appears to mirror these effects in the lab,” said Dr. Steven Gillespie, another researcher involved in the project, in the press release.
While oxytocin is associated with positive feelings like love and relaxation, according to the press release, its close similarity to alcohol means that we cannot ignore this hormone’s potential danger. Like alcohol, oxytocin can also facilitate increased aggression and envy, boastfulness, and selfish behavior. Also, like alcohol, oxytocin’s ability to lower social inhibition can also have dangerous outcomes, since these fears are normally put in place to keep us from harm and trouble. Both substances can enhance perception of trustworthiness, a side effect that can be dangerous in the wrong situation.
Despite the similarities in both compounds, the team does not believe oxytocin will ever be used as an alternative to alcohol, but they do predict these newfound capabilities open possible clinical uses for psychological and psychiatric conditions.
“Understanding exactly how it suppresses certain modes of action and alters our behavior could provide real benefits for a lot of people. Hopefully this research might shed some new light on it and open up avenues we hadn’t yet considered,” Gillespie concluded.
Source: Gillespie S, et al. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2015.