Sydney University boffins reckon there just might be such a thing as a sobering drug – and that it's something the body makes naturally.
In joint research with the University of Regensburg in Germany, the researchers found that in drunk rats, the so-called “cuddle hormone” oxytocin ameliorated alcohol's effect on the drunken rodents' coordination.
Oxytocin is well-known as being a key hormone in social behaviour, sexual behaviour, and bonding.
It centres around a particular receptor in the brain that responds to booze: “oxytocin prevents alcohol from accessing specific sites in the brain that cause alcohol's intoxicating effects, sites known as delta-subunit GABA-A receptors”, says the University of Sydney release.
The researchers tested this by infusing oxytocin into the brains of rats that were then given alcohol.
Sydney University psychologist Dr Michael Bowen said “Alcohol impairs your coordination by inhibiting the activity of brain regions that provide fine motor control. Oxytocin prevents this effect to the point where we can't tell from their behaviour that the rats are actually drunk”.
The oxytocin, as explained at New Scientist, binds to the GABA receptors, which means the alcohol can't.
However, if you have too much (in the rats, “too much” turned out to be the equivalent of a bottle of vodka), there's so much booze sloshing around that it started to bind to GABA receptors in synapses. These are out of reach of the oxytocin, so the rats fell asleep.
And while booze-hounds might like the idea of feeling, ahem, “cuddly” and being able to load up without getting blasted, the researchers are actually working on ways to reduce alcohol abuse.
In other experiments they found that the drug reduces both consumption and cravings – not only in rats, but also in humans. This suggests oxytocin and the GABA receptors are worth researching further as the basis for treatments.
The study was published in PNAS (abstract here). ®