Do you remember how nervous you were on your first date? Did you take a shot of alcohol to overcome the anxiety or did you just let the emotions run their course? Well, new research now suggests that the effects of Alcohol and oxytocin may more or less be the same.
Oxytocin is a well-known hormone and neurotransmitter. It is produced by the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood by the pituitary gland. Its action is to influence emotion, cognition and social interactions.
According to Dr. Ian Mitchell of the School of Psychology, at the University of Birmingham he and his colleagues have found that the "Love hormone," oxytocin, and alcohol work in similar ways. Oxytocin triggers empathy, and selflessness, encouraging trust and reducing anxiety, fear and stress. Alcohol is known to have those similar effects and therefore the UK based group set out to investigate this correlation.
Dr. Mitchell and his team of researchers found that although alcohol and oxytocin affect different pathways, they both have similar effects on Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) signaling in the prefrontal cortex and limbic areas of the mammalian brain. Suggesting that usage of these compounds, can affect brain signaling in a way that controls how we perceive stressful situations and anxiety provoking scenarios, especially in social interaction.
Dr. Steven Gillespie of the School of Psychology elaborated on the team's findings by likening having a drink of alcohol in order to ease nervousness to that of feeling calm due to a rush of oxytocin in the blood stream: "The idea of 'Dutch courage' is used to battle those immediate obstacles of fear and anxiety. Oxytocin appears to mirror these effects in the lab," he said.
The dark side of the matter however, is that both alcohol and oxytocin can cause aggressiveness, excessive gloating, envy, and favoritism. The researchers warned that both compounds influence our perception of trust and as a result may encourage illogical and unnecessary risk taking. The UK based group of researchers do not foresee oxytocin becoming a social alternative to alcohol, but may have more useful applications in treatment of psychiatric conditions.
Don't be surprised if the next time you are out at the bar the waiter asks, "Vodka or Oxytocin?"
This Video provides a working definition of oxytocin. It also goes further to mention several other research findings that reveal good and bad effects of oxytocin. You are sure to see both sides of this compound. You decide, to cuddle... or not to cuddle.