Addiction Linked to the Poor Development of Oxytocin

oxytocinInfants and toddlers that are exposed to an environment where addictive behavior is present leads to the poor development of oxytocin.[1] Children rely on positive role models, and role models that abuse alcohol or drugs may teach children to do the same, increasing their risk of having addiction in the future.1

“We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child,” said Dr. Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences in Australia. “But our oxytocin systems aren’t fully developed when we are born—they don’t finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences, both external and internal.”1

In fact, the main factors that affect the oxytocin system’s development are genetics, gender, and environment.1

Buisman-Pijlman states, “You can’t change the genes you’re born with, but environmental factors play a substantial role in the development of the oxytocin system until our systems are fully developed. Previous research has shown that there is a high degree of variability in people’s oxytocin levels. We’re interested in how and why people have such differences in oxytocin, and what we can do about it to have a beneficial impact on people’s health and wellbeing.”1

Therefore, for the study, Buisman-Pijlman reviewed international research on oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” or “bonding drug” due to its role in enhancing social interactions maternal behavior, and partnership.1 She found that some studies revealed risk factors for drug addiction at age four—and because our oxytocin system finishes developing at age three, this may be a critical window for future research to investigate.1

Oxytocin can reduce the pleasure of drugs and feeling of stress, but only if it develops well; therefore, adversity in early life may cause the impaired development of the oxytocin system.1

“This adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, deprivation, or severe infection, to name just a few factors,” said Buisman-Pijlman. “Understanding what occurs with the oxytocin system during the first few years of life could help us to unravel this aspect of addictive behavior and use that knowledge for treatment and prevention.”1

[1] Wood, J. (2014). Addiction Linked to Disruption of ‘Love Hormone’. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/03/22/addiction-linked-to-disruption-of-love-hormone/67479.html

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