Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hugs not drugs - Oxytocin – My new drug of choice

Thank goodness I gave up alcohol and drugs over 25 years ago. But I have a confession to make – there is a drug I am still using – and enjoying it! It is Oxytocin, the “love hormone”. As I continue to learn more and more about how the brain works, I am realizing that there are actually good drugs that do function well in our lives. The first one that comes to mind is our friend Endorphin. Our brains natural painkiller and energy booster, Endorphin works really well to promote a sense of well being, energy, good sleep, and many other positive effects. All we have to do to get these good effects is work out on a regular basis.


Now I am becoming a big fan of Oxytocin. Sometimes it is called the cuddle drug, or the bonding hormone, or even the love hormone. We have known for a long time that Oxytocin is released during labor and seems to be one of the main causes of the intense bonding between both parents and their babies. Levels go up dramatically when moms give birth. And amazingly Oxytocin levels go up in the dads too. Now it has been shown to be involved in a whole number of other situations. Oxytocin levels rise when we care for another person or animal, when we get or receive a massage or a hug, when we feel gratitude, when we feel or act in a generous way. Another words Oxytocin is a big part of how and why we feel love – not just romantic love, but platonic and brotherly love.


And what does Oxytocin do? It has been shown in experiments that Oxytocin causes an increase in trust and generosity, an increase in empathy and a decrease in fear. It helps us relax and feel calm. Oxytocin may be the main reason why people with pets live longer and why support groups help people with cancer and addictions. Oxytocin relaxes us and decreases stress hormones. I don’t think it is a coincidence that people all over the world automatically started to hug each other at 12 step meetings. It feels good. It releases Oxytocin.


So why are Endorphins and Oxytocin good for us when addictive drugs are harmful to us? I think one reason is that they are released in the right amounts, but I think that that a bigger reason that these natural chemicals are good for us is that we have to work for them. We have to earn them. You do have to work out in order to get your endorphins. You do have to do things in order to get your Oxytocin. You have to be vulnerable and you have to trust. You have to make some effort to get your Oxytocin.

The amazing thing about Oxytocin though is that it is one of those things that the more you give, the more you get. There is some evidence that the more we make Oxytocin the more sensitive we become to its effects – if we put more effort into love we actually feel more good loving feelings. Somehow we know this intuitively.


So what can we all do to get more Oxytocin? Well there are lots of things but here are a few suggestions for starters:


· Hugs are a good start

· Hold a baby

· Smile at a child

· Give or get a massage, or even a foot rub

· Keep a gratitude list

· Do some volunteer work

· Spend time Meditating and Praying

· Go for a walk

· Forgive someone and forgive yourself.

· Make amends to someone you have hurt

· Etc, etc


Best wishes on your Oxytocin journey.


Dr Peter Coleman


  1. love this! I, too am an oxytocin hound

  2. Nan Aitel-thompsonJune 19, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    I adore this post! And the timing is perfect for me. Have work over the summer on how to release oxytocin in my private life like I do in my work life, working at high school with teenagers most of who use drugs and talk confidentially to me, giving me the contact hi, probably of!