Cocaine is a highly addictive, illicit substance. Although illegal in many countries, many people still find access to it, and later become addicted to it. Cocaine has been shown to contribute towards numerous health problems, ranging from cognitive to physical impairments. Its use has been linked to higher rates of heart disease. Despite these risks, many find themselves addicted to cocaine and unable to quit. Some quit, but never feel quite the same as before their addiction.
There have been many attempts at therapy and rehabilitation for cocaine addiction, as well as for other substance abuse disorders. A relatively recently explored treatment is through the use of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that is usually regarded as a pregnancy hormone, or a love drug. However, growing research indicates that it may be able to treat drug addiction and related disorders.
A study in 1998 observed the relationship between oxytocin and vasopressin, and cocaine addiction. In this study, researchers selected several rat test subjects. The rats were allowed to self-administer cocaine as often as they pleased. Once signs of physical and psychological dependence took hold, researchers administered oxytocin to the rodents.
Before being administered oxytocin, the rats displayed typical symptoms of stimulant abuse and addiction. They were withdrawn, hyperactive, and constantly returning to the source of cocaine. However, following oxytocin injections, these symptoms appeared to dissipate. The rats showed fewer hyperactive tendencies, and used less and less cocaine.
Another study in 2016 explored the relationship between oxytocin and other substance abuse disorders. These researchers introduced mice to alcohol, stimulants, and opiates. As in the prior study, these rodents were allowed virtually endless amounts of psychoactive substances. Rather than inject mice with oxytocin, they observed levels of it as their addictions progressed.
They found that oxytocin activity within the brain seemed to depend on, and respond to, various drug addictions. The mice that developed substance abuse problems appeared to have lower levels and concentrations of oxytocin throughout their brains. Several neural pathways associated with oxytocin were affected. This was demonstrable throughout each mouse, regardless of the substance they consumed.
These findings appear to indicate that oxytocin disorders may play a more important role in drug addiction than previously thought. In the rats given cocaine, oxytocin levels appeared to be greatly lowered through substance dependency. However, after receiving oxytocin injections, the effects of cocaine dependency seemed diminished.
Likewise, the study on mice given several different psychoactive drugs showed that oxytocin played a factor in addiction. Throughout each mouse that developed a substance addiction, oxytocin levels appeared to be lower. This potentially indicates that oxytocin supplementation may be able to reverse such addictive tendencies.
Each study appeared to show that oxytocin was a key component in forming addictions. Or rather, less oxytocin within the brain correlated with higher addiction rates. Through increasing concentrations of oxytocin, individuals just might be able to attenuate addiction within themselves.