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Oxytocin being examined for treating PTSD, alcoholism
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Widely known as the love or cuddle hormone, oxytocin made in the brain’s hypothalamus plays a crucial role in childbirth and helps with male reproductive system. A particularly important hormone for women, it is secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland and plays an important part in promoting mother-child bonding.

While previous studies have linked oxytocin to control some human behaviors and manage stress and anxiety, the hormone may also play a role in treating alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A team of researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), who has previously studied its use in treating alcohol abuse, has begun a clinical trial to test the potential of oxytocin for PTSD. The new trial involves 65 volunteers and is being held at a mental health facility at Fort Gordon, Augusta, Georgia. The trial will see volunteers being given single doses of oxytocin and then subjecting them to a stress test.

“The amount of money spent managing the fallout of PTSD and substance abuse in our whole society is enormous. We’re hoping we can address that by bringing an overlooked, cheap, accessible drug into use for the public,” said Jennifer Mitchell, an associate professor of neurology in the UCSF School of Medicine who is also leader of the clinical trial. According to Mitchell, as oxytocin plays a key role in trust, empathy and social behavior, it could also be helpful in mitigating stress response brought by trauma. The trial comes days after published evidence that the hormone could be used for treating opioid addiction and preventing relapse.

Although the threat or actual battle takes a psychological toll on many in the military, last few years have seen a change in the attitude of the U.S. military towards this condition and its willingness to experiment to help troubled soldiers. The shift in the attitude has permitted Mitchell to test oxytocin as a treatment option for PTSD and substance abuse among active military personnel.

In a 2016 study conducted by Mitchell and her colleagues, oxytocin was found to reduce alcohol cravings. The study involved 32 non-treatment-seeking individuals suffering from alcohol abuse. The researchers discovered that intranasal oxytocin had potential to improve social perception and reduce alcohol cravings. “Intranasal oxytocin has potential to improve social perception, reduce cue-induced alcohol cravings, and reduce appetitive approach bias in subjects with alcohol abuse, and can be safely tolerated in this population. The effects of oxytocin are complex, however, and require further investigation,” the study concluded.

Intranasal oxytocin reduces symptoms in female PTSD patients

While Mitchell’s clinical trial is still underway, a new study published in the journal BMC Medicine in February 2017 suggests that intranasal oxytocin reduces provoked symptoms in female patients with PTSD. To examine how oxytocin influenced the intensity of provoked PTSD symptoms and cardiac control in women patients, researchers analyzed the participants’ cognitive and cardiac response to trauma-script exposure with and without oxytocin pretreatment. The assessment was carried out in a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study.

During the research, 35 female patients with PTSD receiving oxytocin and placebo were studied in a 2-week interval. The researchers also performed a small pilot study to get an idea of the relation between stress-modulated endogenous oxytocin levels and heart rate. They concluded that oxytocin treatment reduced the intensity of provoked PTSD symptoms in female patients with the disorder. The researchers also found a positive correlation between endogenous oxytocin levels and heart rate in healthy control subjects both before and after the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) challenge.

Relationship between PTSD and substance abuse

There exists a strong relationship between PTSD and substance use disorder (SUD). Often found together, the pairing of PTSD with substance abuse can be a big trouble for the trauma survivor and his or her family. To cope with their PTSD, individuals often resort to means including drinking heavily, using drugs or smoking too much, leading to SUD. While addictive substances like drugs and alcohol may provide short-term relief from daily life stressors, using them can make PTSD symptoms worse.

Studies also show a link between PTSD and SUD in both civilian and military population irrespective of gender. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), over three-quarters of men and women suffering from PTSD have another comorbid lifetime diagnosis. According to the VA, more than two out of 10 veterans suffering from PTSD also have SUD and almost one out of every three veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD.

Path to recovery

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about a third of all people grappling with mental illnesses and about half of those living with a mental disorder also experience substance abuse. Dual diagnosis is a term used for someone experiencing mental illness and substance use problem simultaneously. A complex diagnosis, either substance abuse or mental illness can develop first. The most effective approach to treating both the disorders is to address both the conditions concurrently at certified dual diagnosis treatment centers.

According to research, when the provided treatment addressed both PTSD and SUD, general people reported improvement in symptoms of both the disorders. Treatment for PTSD and SUD might involve a combination of medication and therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Researches have often pointed out a significant relationship between trauma and substance use disorders among women. Evidence also suggests that a majority of women suffering from PTSD and SUD were often victims of childhood abuse and were more susceptible to repeated trauma in their adult lives. Sovereign Health offers women patients the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the strongest way possible. Our Chandler facility in Arizona, a women’s treatment center, offers various treatments for mental health issues and co-occurring disorders to all female patients. The Arizona facility offers a comprehensive behavioral health treatment program called “rebuilding our acceptance & resilience” (ROAR) for women patients grappling with drug and alcohol addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions.

For more information on dual diagnosis treatment programs and dual diagnosis residential treatment offered at our facility, call us at 24/7 helpline number 866-598-5661. You can also chat online with trained counselors to know more about our finest residential treatment centers and dual diagnosis treatment facility near your locality.

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