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This Could Be Why You're Painfully Sober After a One-Night Stand

Researchers in Australia have found that it's way harder to be a drunk idiot if you're all jacked up on hormones—namely, oxytocin: "the cuddle chemical."
Photo via Flickr user Robyn Ramsay

When Beyoncé growls about being "drunk in love," does she mean that she's drunk and in love, or sober and feeling drunk because she's in love? Bey, we have so many questions.

The feeling of love—or at least, post-orgasmic brainlessness—is intoxicating in its own right. Some would call these "warm fuzzies"; others would just attribute it to blood flow redirecting from your head to your junk.

But there are other times—perhaps when you suddenly find your Tinder date hastily relocated from a dimly lit wood-paneled bar playing Cocteau Twins to a stained, twin-sized mattress on the floor of your date's B.O.-scented, closet-sized room—when sex can be downright sobering. Wait, wasn't I three jalapeño margaritas deep a second ago? Because now I feel like I'm watching footage from Normandy.


Well, it turns out that sometimes, oxytocin (a.k.a. "the cuddle chemical") and alcohol just don't mesh. A new study from Australia's University of Sydney in partnership with the University of Regensburg has found that (literal) lab rats can't seem to get their waste-face on when they're dosed up with oxy.

For the unfamiliar, oxytocin (not to be confused with the oft-abused prescription drug Oxycontin) is the hormone produced by the hypothalamus when you make out with your significant other, cuddle, or have a delightful round of mutually orgasmic sex; it's also crucial in developing familial relationships, particularly the mother-child bond that occurs right after birth. It has also been referred to as "liquid trust," due to its proven ability to amplify openness and emotional memories. You can even buy it as a nasal spray, intended to relieve stress or "improve bonding with loved ones." It has also been suggested as a possible tool for assisting alcoholics in achieving sobriety.

At the University of Sydney, researcher Michael Bowen was researching just that—its potential uses for alcoholics—when he noticed that the rats dosed with oxytocin weren't getting wasted.

Curious, he launched a second experiment wherein a group of rats was given large injections of oxytocin (about 150,000 times more than the normal, resting brain level), then enough alcohol to be equivalent to about a bottle and a half of wine in human terms. The other rats remained were given booze, but not the sexy juice.


Bowen then tested their motor control and reaction times, finding that the oxytocin-spiked rats hardly seemed drunk at all. In fact, "The rats that had received oxytocin, as well as the alcohol, were virtually indistinguishable from the rats that hadn't received any alcohol at all," Bowen said. Sounds like they would have no problem standing on one foot, reciting the alphabet backwards, or walking in a straight line.

This is because of the brain's GABA receptors, which are responsible for translating your three glasses of Chardonnay into what comes across as drunken behavior. Oxytocin binds to these receptors, preventing alcohol from translating into slurring, stumbling, and the other common signifiers of impaired motor control that can be observed outside a college bar on a Saturday night.

Within reason, that is—after a certain amount of alcohol, equivalent to about a bottle of vodka, the oxytocin could no longer "hold the reins," so to speak. At this level, GABA receptors become overwhelmed. This may explain your friend who always manages to suck face with someone at the bar, but then passes out as soon as they're left to sit on a bench or subway seat.

But the real applications of the study probably aren't best understood in terms of whiskey dick; instead, they can hopefully be implemented in treating alcohol abuse. Oxytocin treatment has also been shown to reduce the urge to drink alcohol, so don't get too excited about having a six-martini dinner, dosing yourself with oxy, and then driving home.

But still: a drug that can intensify your orgasms, make you love your mom more, and stop you from stumbling all over yourself like a drunken loser? Sounds like Beyoncé got her hands on some of that nasal spray.