Drunk (?) in Love

With Doghead (the no holds barred bacchanalia to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day) rapidly approaching students are likely preparing their minds and bodies for the coming onslaught of alcohol. What they may not be aware of is recent research conducted at the University of Sydney on a brain chemical called Oxytocin (also known as the ‘love hormone’) that may be relevant to their preparations.

Michael Bowen (2015) and his colleagues investigated the effect of oxytocin on rats that had also been given alcohol and compared them to a control of sober rats. The researchers were surprised to find that rats treated with oxytocin showed non of the same drunken characteristics as their inebriated counterparts did, despite having received the same dosage of alcohol. The researchers used a variety of rat sobriety tests to measure the effect of alcohol on their system. These tests included a mesh-clinging test, where the rats were timed for how long they would cling to a piece of mesh; a pull-up test, where the rats had to roll from their backs onto their feet; and a free roam observation, where researchers simply took note of the rats behavior in an inclosed case. A video of the free roam observation is provided in the link at the end of this post. As you can see, the sober rats and the oxytocin treated rats are roaming around the space and exploring, while the drunk rat sits quietly in a corner (presumably evaluating its life and its choices). They found that on all the test the sober rats and the oxytocin treated rats performed significantly better than the drunk rats.

Bowen (2015) posited that the results were due to oxytocin’s ability to block alcohol from reaching the GABA receptors in the brain. While the blood-alcohol content would be the same in the drunk rats and the oxytocin treated rats, their cognitive functions were not noticeably impaired. While the study featured artificially manipulated levels of oxytocin, I wonder if in future research they could compare innate levels of oxytocin and correlate it with relative alcohol tolerance. While still in the early stages of research development I’m sure we can all appreciate the relevance of the hormones-alcohol relationship to a college campus lifestyle.

Video of Drunk Rats:http://www.livescience.com/49946-love-hormone-sobers-drunken-rat-in-study-video.html



Hall, Shannon. “‘Love Hormone’ Sobers Up Drunken Rats.” Live Science. February 25, 2015.

2 thoughts on “Drunk (?) in Love

  1. This was really cool to read about, considering that in our Biological Basis of Behavior class, we all just learned about alcohol and what it could do to inhibit or activate certain neurotransmitters in the brain. We learned that if GABA is blocked for any reason, then it loses its ability to stop dopamine from being released. So, if oxytocin is able to inhibit GABA, then this means that more dopamine will be released in the rats who were sober and the rats who received oxytocin, than in the rats who just received the alcohol. We also learned that at low doses of alcohol, GABA can be inhibited, but at high doses of alcohol, GABA is allowed to restrict dopamine release. So, could it be that the rats who were given alcohol were given high levels (for them), and so dopamine was not released and they showed signs of being drunk? I guess I am just wondering about what dopamine’s involvement in this study could be, (although this was probably not the purpose of the study). It seems to me that they are just testing the motor effects that occur on the rat brains after receiving alcohol, oxytocin, or nothing at all. I would love to know more about how oxytocin specifically allows for the deterioration of motor movements that alcohol normally has on the brain, to be bypassed.


  2. I found this really interesting, especially considering that a fair amount of people in college tend to drink to make talking to the opposite sex easier. If oxytocin tends to “sober” us up, then are we actually being ourselves when we interact with someone we like? Are the effects of the alcohol just in our head at that point- a placebo effect? It isn’t out of the question because I know there have been studies where participants were given non-alcoholic beer thinking it was real beer and still exhibited drunken behaviors. I think it would be interesting to see how big of a part oxytocin plays in this interaction in humans. Would the levels of oxytocin released be of any significance?


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