Oxytocin and addiction: a review

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1998 Nov;23(8):945-62. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4530(98)00064-x.


Neuropeptides affect adaptive central nervous system processes related to opiate ethanol and cocaine addiction. Oxytocin (OXT), a neurohypophyseal neuropeptide synthesized in the brain and released at the posterior pituitary, also is released in the central nervous system (CNS). OXT acts within the CNS and has been shown to inhibit the development of tolerance to morphine, and to attenuate various symptoms of morphine withdrawal in mice. In rats, intravenous self-administration of heroin was potently decreased by OXT treatment. In relation to cocaine abuse, OXT dose-dependently decreased cocaine-induced hyperlocomotion and stereotyped grooming behavior. Following chronic cocaine treatment, the behavioral tolerance to the sniffing-inducing effect of cocaine was markedly inhibited by OXT. Behavioral sensitization to cocaine, on the other hand, was facilitated by OXT. OXT receptors in the CNS--mainly those located in limbic and basal forebrain structures--are responsible for mediating various effects of OXT in the opiate- and cocaine-addicted organism. Dopaminergic neurotransmission--primarily in basal forebrain structures--is another important biochemical mediator of the central nervous system effects of OXT. Tolerance to ethanol (e.g. hypothermia-inducing effect of ethanol) also was inhibited by OXT.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Morphine Dependence / physiopathology
  • Morphine Dependence / psychology
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Oxytocin / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Oxytocin