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Science Says Being Drunk and Falling in Love Are Basically the Same Feeling

Scientists have figured out the chemical tie between the feelings of gazing into the eyes of your boo and the languid contentment that hits you somewhere during your second Mai Tai.
Hilary Pollack
Los Angeles, US

This is where we could start off with a "Drunk in Love" joke, but will refrain since we've already done that. But there's a poetic, long-established tie between the feelings of gazing into the eyes of your boo and the languid contentment that hits you somewhere during your second Mai Tai. Call them the "warm fuzzies," call it twitterpation or tipsiness, but there are certainly some sensory commonalities between the feels provided by extreme flirtation and from a coupl'a cocktails: the relaxed body language, the increased willingness to get it on, and the sense of trust.

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Now, researchers at the University of Brighton have confirmed that alcohol measurably shares characteristics oxytocin, that cuddly-wuddly hormone that makes women obsessed with their babies and both sexes fond of post-coital snuggling.

In a new study published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, a team from the University of Birmingham details the shared characteristics of these two chemicals, arguing that oxytocin's reputation as the "love hormone" hides its "darker side."

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

Although the benefits of oxytocin are known—it reduces stress, increases empathetic and generous behavior, and is integral in childbirth, mother-child bonding, and social relationships—the University of Birmingham team argues that it is also tied to aggression, envy, competitiveness, and boastfulness. Kind of sounds like your buddy who can't hold their liquor, doesn't it?

Both alcohol and oxytocin also reduce fear and anxiety, which might make us feel better but also lead us to make less advisable decisions when under their influence.

So why does making out have the same effect on our psyches and actions as a couple of hours at the bar? The University of Birmingham School of Psychology's Dr. Ian Mitchell says that the chemicals cause similar reactions on our GABA—gamma-Aminobutyric acid—neurotransmitters, which are circuits in our prefrontal cortex that control our levels of stress, fear, and courage.

If you've ever entrusted someone with information that you shouldn't have after getting sloshed—or doin' it with them—then you are like familiar with the befuddling sensation of wondering later why you elected to tell Brian that you've always had a fantasy about hobo clowns. Well, friend, you were under the influence—be it of whiskey or of Cupid's arrow.

Although you can now purchase synthetic oxytocin—albeit from somewhat questionable sources—the team warns that it's aforementioned "darker side" is of concern and not to self-medicate with it as a means of getting an intranasal confidence boost (or for the novelty of getting drunk off of hormones), as risk-taking behaviors could be increased. The researchers acknowledge that the hormone does show quite a bit of promise in terms of treating some psychiatric conditions—ironically, including alcoholism—but that more studies must be performed before its potential applications can be fully understood.

Interestingly, an Australian study from earlier this year found that lab rats dosed with oxytocin actually had a more difficult time getting intoxicated because the hormone binds to and overloads GABA receptors, prohibiting the full effects of alcohol from permeating.

The plus side of all of this: if you've got a partner, you can get drunk any time you want—minus the hangover.