Craving Moderates the Effects of Intranasal Oxytocin on Anger in Response to Social Stress Among Veterans With Co-Occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder

J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2021 Jul-Aug 01;41(4):465-469. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001434.


Purpose/background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD) commonly co-occur among US military veterans. Oxytocin may have therapeutic value in treating both conditions. The potential for oxytocin to augment affective features common to PTSD and AUD, such as anger, is relevant to inform emerging treatments.

Methods/procedures: We examined the influence of intranasally administered oxytocin on connections between alcohol craving and stress-induced anger in a sample of 73 veterans (91.3% men) with co-occurring PTSD and AUD. Participants self-administered oxytocin (40 IU) or placebo (saline) 45 minutes before completing the Trier Social Stress Task (TSST). Self-reports of alcohol craving and anger were assessed pre- and post-TSST using a modified visual analog scale. Multiple regression analysis, including main effects for group, baseline craving, and their interaction, was used to predict post-TSST anger.

Findings/results: A marginally significant interaction was observed, suggesting a positive association between baseline craving and anger for those in the oxytocin group (B = 0.65, P = 0.01). Among those reporting low craving, participants in the oxytocin group reported significantly lower post-TSST anger than those in the placebo group.

Implications/conclusions: The current study is among the first to examine relevant psychosocial moderators that may influence the effects of oxytocin among veterans with comorbid PTSD and AUD. Although oxytocin attenuated ratings of anger after a stress task among those with low baseline craving, findings suggest that oxytocin may not be as effective at reducing anger, a highly salient factor in PTSD, for individuals experiencing high levels of craving. Findings are consistent with the social salience hypothesis and suggest that individual differences in alcohol craving should be considered when evaluating oxytocin as a potential treatment for individuals with comorbid PTSD and AUD.

Trial registration: NCT02058251.

Associated data