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Need to sober up? A shot of the 'love hormone' could do the trick

Researchers from Australia and Germany find that buzzed mice treated with oxytocin act less drunk than normal. Could the findings have implications for sloshed humans?

See that poor middle mouse in the video above? That critter is flat-out drunk, as it's plain to see. The fascinating thing is that the mouse on the far right is equally drunk but is behaving exactly the same as the sober mouse on the far left.

That's because Right Mouse (as opposed to Left Shark) had an infusion of oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the "love hormone," to its brain, and that reduced its ethanol-induced motor impairment. Researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia and the University of Regensburg in Germany believe the substance can help ameliorate the effects of alcohol in mice, and are hopeful it might one day do the same in humans.

"In the rat equivalent of a sobriety test, the rats given alcohol and oxytocin passed with flying colors, while those given alcohol without oxytocin were seriously impaired," Michael Bowen of the University of Sydney's School of Psychology said in a statement. Bowen is lead author on a study released Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Women release oxytocin to stimulate uterine contractions during labor and to spur the production of milk for feeding newborns. It also plays a role in women developing a nurturing attitude toward their babies. Additionally, it's been linked to trust and social bonding in both men and women, earning it its nickname as the "love hormone."

The researchers figured out that the hormone prevents alcohol from working on delta-subunit GABA-A receptors in the brain, which are sensitive to alcohol's intoxicating effects on functions like coordination.

Although the studies have only taken place in mice so far, the researchers plan to move their trials to human subjects. "The first step will be to ensure we have a method of drug delivery for humans that allows sufficient amounts of oxytocin to reach the brain," Bowen said. "If we can do that, we suspect that oxytocin could also leave speech and cognition much less impaired after relatively high levels of alcohol consumption."

Even if the treatment does work in humans, however, don't expect a "get-out-of-a-DUI pass." While the hormone might save you from acting as drunk as you are, it won't do anything to reduce the amount of alcohol in your blood, so you'd still be just as likely to be ticketed if driving while intoxicated.

Interestingly though, in other experiments by this same team and others, it's been found that treatment with oxytocin actually reduced the amount of alcohol consumed by both rats and humans, so it could serve a one-two punch if it ever becomes commercially available: you'll drink less and you'll get less drunk from what you do drink.

Now if they could only do something about those pesky hangovers.