The Role of Oxytocin in Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
The neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) plays a key role in adaptive processes associated with reward, tolerance, memory and stress responses. Through interactions with brain reward and stress systems, OXT is known to play a role in several neuropsychiatric disorders, particularly those that involve altered social integration, such as alcohol and drug addiction (Heilig et al., 2016). As such, there is growing interest in the oxytocin system as a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of alcohol and substance use disorders. Accumulating preclinical evidence suggests that administration of OXT influences the development of tolerance, sensitization and withdrawal symptoms, and modulates numerous alcohol/drug-seeking and alcohol/drug-taking behaviors. Further, there is some evidence to suggest that OXT may help to reverse neuroadaptations that occur as a result of chronic alcohol or drug exposure. To date, there have been only a handful of clinical studies conducted in alcohol and drug dependent populations. This review summarizes the preclinical and clinical literature on the effects of OXT administration on alcohol- and drug-related behaviors. In addition, we discuss OXT interactions with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and multiple neurotransmitter systems within addiction circuitry.