Intranasal Oxytocin Shows Promise for Alcohol Withdrawal.

In a small pilot trial, the agent lowered withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, and the need for benzodiazepines.

Oxytocin blocks the development of tolerance and attenuates withdrawal symptoms in rodents. This double-blind, randomized study examined effects of oxytocin on alcohol withdrawal symptoms in humans.

The 11 actively drinking, alcohol-dependent participants (9 men; average age, 41) with a history of withdrawal symptoms but not of alcohol withdrawal seizures or delirium tremens underwent inpatient alcohol detoxification. Seven participants received intranasal oxytocin 24 IU twice daily for 3 days, and four received matching intranasal placebo. Lorazepam was given as needed, based on withdrawal symptoms. Oxytocin recipients required almost five times less lorazepam than the placebo recipients and had significantly lower withdrawal ratings on days 1 and 2 and anxiety/tension symptom ratings on day 2.

Comment: This very preliminary study suggests that oxytocin may reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms in humans. Oxytocin would have advantages over benzodiazepines because it does not itself cause sedative-hypnotic tolerance and instead reverses it. However, oxytocin would be unlikely to prevent alcohol withdrawal seizures or delirium tremens.

Oxytocin has already been shown to reduce anxiety, increase interpersonal trust, and improve social cognition in humans, with no adverse effects, in short-term studies. Oxytocin is currently far from routine clinical use, but it will be exciting to see whether it can reduce drinking in alcohol-dependent outpatients or treat anxiety symptoms and disorders.

Source: Journal Watch Psychiatry


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