Why falling in love is similar to being drunk
Poets, songwriters and authors have written of the intoxicating effect of falling in love.
But a new study suggests that the love hormone oxytocin has similar affects to being drunk, and not just the more pleasant aspects of inebriation.
Researchers found that not only can oxytocin make lovers feel relaxed, happy and more confident, it can also provoke aggression, jealousy and arrogance.
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and plays a significant role in bonding, falling in love and making friendships.
Scientists at the University of Birmingham tested subjects to find out if the effects of drinking alcohol were similar to those of oxytocin, which was administered in a spray.
Dr Ian Mitchell, from the School of Psychology at Birmingham University, said: "We pooled existing research into the effects of both oxytocin and alcohol and were struck by the incredible similarities between the two compounds.
"They appear to target different receptors within the brain, but cause common actions.
"These neural circuits control how we perceive stress or anxiety, especially in social situations such as interviews, or perhaps even plucking up the courage to ask somebody on a date. Taking compounds such as oxytocin and alcohol can make these situations seem less daunting."
Oxytocin increases pro-social behaviours such as altruism, generosity and empathy while making us more willing to trust others. Those effects come about because the hormone appears to remove the brakes on social inhibitors such as fear, anxiety and stress in the same way that alcohol works.
The researchers say it may explain why first dates are often involve alcohol as prospective partners use 'Dutch courage' to mirror the feelings of love.
Dr Steven Gillespie said: "The idea of 'Dutch courage' - having a drink to overcome nerves - is used to battle those immediate obstacles of fear and anxiety.
"Oxytocin appears to mirror these effects in the lab."
However, the researchers warn against self-medicating with either the hormone or a swift drink to provide a little more confidence in difficult moments.
Alongside the health concerns that accompany frequent alcohol consumption, there are less desirable socio-cognitive effects that both alcohol and oxytocin can facilitate.
People can become more aggressive, more boastful, envious of those they consider to be their competitors, and favour their in-group at the expense of others.
The compounds can also affect our sense of fear which normally acts to protect us from getting into trouble and we often hear of people taking risks that they otherwise wouldn't.
A dose of either compound can further influence how we deal with others by enhancing our perception of trustworthiness, which would further increase the danger of taking unnecessary risks.
The findings were published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews.
Dr Gillespie added: "I don't think we'll see a time when oxytocin is used socially as an alternative to alcohol.
"But it is a fascinating neurochemical and, away from matters of the heart, has a possible use in treatment of psychological and psychiatric conditions.”