The Effects of Oxytocin on Withdrawal, Craving and Stress Response in Heroin-Dependent Patients

According to the World Drug Report opioids are the most harmful drug type, accounting for 70% of the adverse health impacts associated with drug use disorders worldwide. Treatment typically focusses on controlling withdrawal, preventing cravings and ultimately relapse. Maintenance treatments are used for chronic opioid-dependent patients who cannot achieve abstinence.

 A recent randomised, double-blind trial has examined the effectiveness of oxytocin, a neuropeptide that is produced by the hypothalamus, as part of the treatment of addiction. The researchers analysed the effect of oxytocin on withdrawal, craving, anxiety and cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS) blood level in heroin-dependent 58 male patients.

Results from the study show:

  • Administration of a single dose of oxytocin significantly improved craving scores as described through self-report measures.
  • Acute administration of oxytocin significantly reduced the withdrawal symptoms.
  • Oxytocin therapy did not significantly affect the mean differences of the anxiety scores compared with the placebo group
  • In comparison with the placebo group, the oxytocin treatment significantly decreased serum cortisol level (a hormone particularly involved in the stress response).

The researchers suggest oxytocin increases resilience against addiction and supports social bonding and attachment-related information being consolidated in internal working models. These results indicate that oxytocin has the potential to reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms in heroin-dependent patients.

Moeini, Mina, Abdoallah Omidi, Mojtaba Sehat, and Hamid Reza Banafshe. "The Effects of Oxytocin on Withdrawal, Craving and Stress Response in Heroin-Dependent Patients: A Randomized, Double-Blind Clinical Trial." European addiction research 25, no. 1 (2019): 41-48.
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