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