Trial with Hormone Oxytocin May Lead to PTSD and Alcohol Abuse Treatment

Up to one-third of combat veterans and military personnel experience symptoms of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). This mental health problem develops for some people after either experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that servicemen and women are especially at risk; the rate of PTSD among members of the military is more than three times higher than for the general population. Approximately two-thirds of people with PTSD also have a problem with alcohol abuse.

What is PTSD?

It’s normal to have some residual anxiety, have difficulty sleeping or to experience nightmares after a life-threatening event. It will take some time to feel comfortable doing “normal” things like returning to work, going back to class, driving a vehicle or going to a public place. Most people start to feel better over the weeks and months following the event and are able to resume their normal routine.

Some people, through no fault of their own, are unable to get back on track. They find themselves reliving the event (experiencing flashbacks), avoiding places that remind them of the event, and feeling irritable or jittery weeks or months afterward. The trauma causes them to think and feel about themselves in a negative way.

Oxytocin as Treatment for PTSD and Alcohol Abuse

The new trial will examine whether oxytocin, a hormone released by the body during sex, labor and lactation, can be used as a treatment for PTSD and substance abuse. It is naturally produced by men and women and plays a role in managing stress and anxiety, as well as social behavior, empathy and trust.

This hormone has already been shown to help with conditions involving similar stress responses to PTSD. Researchers at the UCSF Institute for Translational Neuroscience will look at whether oxytocin can help to mitigate the stress response created in the body by trauma. If so, it may help to control certain symptoms of PTSD and the alcohol abuse that is associated with it.

The clinical trial will involve 65 volunteers at a mental health treatment center located at Fort Gordon. Each volunteer in the Augusta, GA, trial, will be given a dose of oxytocin and then subjected to a stress test. Their reaction will be monitored by the researchers.